Notes to Self

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


Cat Care, Depression

Oh poor Alley! Leslie, you aren't supposed to bathe a cat. (I know you know this but let's look into it more). When you bathe a cat, they lose an important part of their personal identity, their body odour - cats identify each other through their body odour (I know, sounds gross - imagine if we humans had to sniff each other for recognition!).

It's quite disconcerting to a cat (apart from the confusing feelings of insecurity wondering why their pets - you - are torturing him / her), and more so if there are other cats in the house too (they won't recognize him / her and be wary).

It's even worse if you use scented soaps or shampoos because then it would take more than a month or more for the cat to regain its natural body odour.

Hiding somewhere, and being jittery are all signs of insecurity. And when cats are insecure / depressed, grooming themselves is a low priority. Apart from the bathing incident (shocking! :) you seem to be doing a great job for Alley to have adjusted herself to her environment. Here are some tips (you may or may not be aware of):

A change of environment is extremely stressful to a cat, so if you move from place to place expect your cat to be jittery and nervous often. Cats also feel quite vulnerable when they are in the loo (so to speak :), when they are eating and when sleeping because these are the moments when they let their guard down and thus feel that anybody can sneak up on them and attack them. Be a cat-body guard when they are doing these and you can make any cat feel quite secure and happy with you. In fact, if you just allow cats to sleep with you in your bed, give them attention and play with them, and be around them when you feed them, they'll love you forever.

Coming back to bathing a cat, one easy and safe (for both you and your cat) way of doing this, is to catch hold of the cat immediately after it has had its food, wet your palm and then pet it. Your palm shouldn't be dripping with water, but just be damp enough to wet the cat. The cat will start squirming but hold firm and pet and wet their whole body. The idea is to just wet their fur and not their body (that's when they start howling). Once done, leave them alone. They'll give you a glare and maybe some irritated meows and then start grooming themselves. It's best to do this after they've had their meal because they'll be in a better mood and more importantly, cats groom themselves after every meal. In effect, you are just pushing the cat to groom themselves more thoroughly.


In case you are wondering, "where's the staple psychology-self-help-sometimes-insightful-thought that I expect from this blog", it's in Leslie's cat's experience -

If you read Leslie's blog post about Alley, she describes how Alley bounced back and seemed to be in a better mood after the bath. Here's why - depression and anxiety sap our will power to do even ordinary day to day things. And that's why depressed individuals appear slack on personal hygiene - sometimes they just can't bring themselves to shower and groom themselves.

Often, depressed (or even otherwise not depressed) individuals generally wait for motivation to come to start doing something. It may not seem very obvious, but the truth is action is the fuel for motivation and so to feel motivated you need start your act and do things - even if it is something as simple as having a shower.

In Alley's case, Leslie bathing him cheered him because he started grooming himself immediately after the bath (cats do that - they don't feel clean unless they've licked themselves), which he had neglected for sometime. Leslie's action, however horrible Alley felt through it also was reassuring because he must have recognized it was out of concern for him.

And that's the two important secret to fighting mild to moderate depression - have a good meal and start doing things, and start socializing. It may not cure the depression completely, but you'll certainly be in a better position to deal with it. (For serious depression, you definitely NEED to meet a psychologist / psychiatrist).

Manipulative Behavior

"Don't make decisions when you are angry, and don't make promises when you are happy."

Girlwiththecurl feels uncomfortable about the "manipulative" tip in the post Dating Advice that has a tip on how to get a woman's phone number within minutes of meeting her.

Posting that note 2 years back was a difficult decision because like Girlwiththecurl, the tip did appear kind of manipulative. Here's the reason why it was ultimately posted -

"Don't make decisions when you are angry, don't make promises when you are happy" is so true! The decisions we make when we are angry is often not the right one, and we do tend to make more promises if we are in a good mood.

Isn't that why all of us are extra nice to someone, especially when we need something from them? Now is that manipulation - being nice to someone when we need / want something?

Yes and no - as you grow and become more mature, you learn this - when you are nice to people you are more likely to get what you want and, that people are extra nice to you (or suck up to you) especially when they want something from you.

When someone does this to you, you could become angry about this thinking, "That **** is trying to manipulate me". Or you can realize that even you - and everybody else in the world - does this and consider the request being made on its merits and the person concerned. Think about it - when you wanted something from someone and were nice to them, and got that something - did that action make you a bad person? When your mom or dad or siblings or friends or a stranger submit to your niceness are they being naive, a fool or ignorant?

Chances are, you feel bad or uncomfortable about it only when you know the other person really well, and / or know that he / she is too naive to realize that he / she was being manipulated.

The point is, these "manipulations" are a part of human communication; the more mature we become, the more aware we become of such "manipulations". But we need to see it not just based on the action, but the character of the person indulging in such actions. Otherwise, one would go crazy judging every action of everyone and trying to figure out if they were being manipulated!

For example, I know someone who is a master of "manipulating" people to get what she wants. I sometimes dislike some of her "manipulations" but I don't dislike her because of another rule she follows - "If they do something for me, I should return the favor". And she does - even if she gets something by manipulating someone, she always returns the favor by doing something equally nice for them. Now If you were to judge this person just through her manipulative actions, you would judge her to be a deceitful, manipulative person - but if you also judge her through her values that define her character, you are not likely to look at her so negatively.

People with better social skills are those who understand human behavior; that's why we like being around them more - they know how to make us happier, how to make us laugh, how to cheer us up, how to make us feel attractive etc. In other words, they know how to manipulate our emotions. Does it make them a bad person to do so? Only if they have selfish values and misuse their social skills.

This explanation may not be quite satisfactory, but that's because this topic is quite a big subject (and so philosophically debatable - what is right and wrong?). In fact, this concept of dealing with manipulative behaviour from others and recognizing when you can and need to be manipulative is a part of advanced assertiveness training (read this note on assertiveness to learn more).

Related Note » Assertiveness

Book » The Manipulative Man: Identify His Behavior, Counter the Abuse, Regain Control


"Shyness has a strange element of narcissism, a belief that how we look, how we perform, is truly important to other people." - Andre Dubus
  • Shyness: Feelings of self-consciousness that people have when they fear being criticized, judged, or rejected.
  • Introverts: Those who draw energy from reflection and the world of inner ideas.
  • Extroverts: People who tend to draw energy from interaction with other people and the outer world.

Related » Assertiveness
» Self-Esteem

Gift Ideas for Her

Gift for her

Can't think of good gift for your girlfriend or wife? Gift her your time and attention; give her a note that says -

" I wanted to buy you something great, but couldn't think of anything. And I felt bad that even after spending so much time with you I don't know you well enough to buy a gift that would bowl you over! I'd love to know you better - I have 50 bucks. Let's go shopping so that you can get a gift you really want and I can get to know you better. ~~ Love, xxx "

The receiver will often love it since shopping together means you get to spend time together, they can get a gift they want and you will learn more about them. Make sure you plan a good time - include a movie if you have a whole day or plan to have coffee after shopping etc.

Of course, you should only use this once but a woman might insist on using this a few times more before she gets tired of it - so do pay attention and get to know her taste :).

Related » Flirting with Romance

My girlfriends parents hate me!

"Well I was at my girlfriend's parents' house, we were in her room and she was just in her underwear and I had my top off. We weren't actually doing anything but her mum and dad jumped to conclusions I had to leave straight away. And they said "We used the think you were decent" but I am decent because I do well at school, I have never done drugs and I am a very active person. How can I sort this out because her mum and dad are refusing to talk to me and my parents. My mum and dad had nothing to do with it. Anyone got any ideas?" - a query on Yahoo! Answers

Teen Love

The picture is clear (sorry, just couldn't resist!) - a dicey situation indeed.

It's good that you recognize that you need to talk to them. But the fact they are ignoring you (and your parents) suggests that perhaps they are more in shock and denial, and more angry towards themselves then you or their daughter.

So give them time to get over the shock first (some time off with no contacts with them and their daughter will help).

Secondly, both of you have to acknowledge your irresponsibility - while you may not have had sex, it doesn't explain why you were in her presence without your top on while she was in her underwear.

The point is, while you may not have had sex yet, the fact that you are comfortable around each other when one or both of you are nude is certainly a cause of concern for any parent. It suggests that you might be close to giving in to temptation - think about it, both of you might have begin by awkwardly touching each other, then got comfortable with that, then moved on to hugs and kisses before you got comfortable with that too. Who knows how or when you may succumb and go the whole way - especially if you hang around nude or naked around each other! So while you may claim that nothing is going on, realize how serious it is and how it looks to her parents.

Thirdly, the fact that you feel upset and guilty over the fact that her parents don't think that you are a decent person, reveals your decency. It shows that you respect her parents opinion and care for it - and that's decency. (Kudos to your parents - they should rightly feel proud for raising you right).

However, you aren't completely in the right (and you know that a little, hence the guilt).

Yes, respecting elders by caring for their opinion, doing well in school, not taking drugs and leading an active life are all indications of a loving, fun, decent teenager. But as you get older, the bounds of decency change too.

Being irresponsible is indecent. Not respecting women is indecent.

You might be a bit surprised at the second point - that perhaps you were disrespectful towards your girl friend.

The thing is, by not thinking of the consequences of a sexual relationship, you were being disrespectful towards your girl friend simply because she has more to lose. Sex is not the same for men and women.

A woman's body actually undergoes physical changes when she becomes sexually active. So unlike guys, who just feel emotionally changed after having sex, woman change both emotionally and physically. Second - her reputation will change when others become aware of her 'indiscretion' with you. (Think about it this way - How do you & your friends perceive a girl who is a virgin and very socially friendly and has a boy friend to a girl who is similar but sexually active with one or multiple partners? Most likely, you will respect the first, and may or not have that same respect for the second). Third, you risk pregnancy (and you do know how much more of a stress, emotionally and physically, it is for the woman then the man).

Anyway, not preaching abstinence (well, maybe a little). Just pointing out that the more self control you have over your urges and feelings, the more mindful you will be of the consequences of your action. And the more mindful you are, the more responsibly you will behave. And becoming more responsible as you get older is very important to develop a decent character.

Coming back to what you should do -
Send them a small note saying you are sorry. Then wait for a week or two (or maybe even a month) with no contact with them (and their daughter; of course after discussing it with her), and then slowly try to talk to her parents. I would suggest by approaching her mother first (women are generally more smarter then men when it comes to relationship).

You could then send her a letter explaining how sorry you are over the incident and ashamed that you lost their respect. Go on to explain that while you do understand where you were in the wrong and how you might have hurt their feelings, explain how some things are still not clear and you would truly appreciate it if she clarify her concerns and advice you out of this mess.

After that, It would also help if you and your girlfriend both pursue this matter with them.

(P.S: Not being a westerner and from a very different culture, perhaps the approach / advice here might be socially inappropriate for your culture and society. So before following the advice here, show this note to your parents and ask them for further inputs.)

Related » Understanding Love
» Unhealthy Relationships

Understanding Love


It isn't easy, but perhaps this story might help us understand love (or atleast one aspect of it):

I once had a friend who grew to be very close to me. Once when we were sitting at the edge of a swimming pool, she filled the palm of her hand with some water and held it before me, and said this: "You see this water carefully contained on my hand? It symbolizes Love."

This was how I saw it: As long as you keep your hand caringly open and allow it to remain there, it will always be there. However, if you attempt to close your fingers round it and try to posses it, it will spill through the first cracks it finds.

This is the greatest mistake that people do when they meet love ... they try to possess it, they demand, they expect ... and just like the water spilling out of your hand, love will retreat from you.

For love is meant to be free, you cannot change its nature. If there are people you love, allow them to be free beings.

Give and don’t expect. Advise, but don’t order. Ask, but never demand.

It might sound simple, but it is a lesson that may take a lifetime to truly practice. It is the secret to true love. To truly practice it, you must sincerely feel no expectations from those who you love, and yet an unconditional caring.

"All love is expansion, all selfishness is contraction. Love is therefore the only law of life. He who loves lives, he who is selfish is dying. Therefore love for love's sake, because it is law of life, just as you breathe to live." - Vivekananda

(The original author of this story is unknown, but it is often attributed to Vivekananda by many.)

Related » Unhealthy Relationships


Vivekananda (or Swami Vivekananda, as he is popularly known in India) was a religious reformer and spiritual guru known for his sharp intellect, commanding personality and compassion for the poor. His intense desire to understand God lead him to question every religion and religious leaders he came across.

Swami Vivekananda

While one may debate forever whether the truth Vivekananda preached is the "truth", his research certainly gives us insights to better understand ourselves, our world and, of course, God and religion. Following are some of his thoughts:

- The remedy for weakness is not brooding over weakness, but thinking of strength. Teach men of the strength that is already within them.
- Let people say whatever they like, stick to your own convictions, and rest assured, the world will be at your feet. They say, 'Have faith in this fellow or that fellow', but I say, 'Have faith in yourself first', that's the way. Have faith in yourself - all power is in you - be conscious and bring it out.
- The difference between God and the devil is in nothing except unselfishness and selfishness. The devil knows as much as God, is as powerful as God; only he has no holiness - that makes him a devil. Apply the same idea to the modern world: excess of knowledge and power, without holiness, makes human beings devils.
- It is our own mental attitude which makes the world what it is for us. Our thoughts make things beautiful, our thoughts make things ugly. The whole world is in our own minds. Learn to see things in the proper light.
- This world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves stronger.
- You have to grow from inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.
- Men in general lay the blame of life on their fellowmen, or, failing that, on God, or they conjure up a ghost, and say it is fate. Where is fate, and who is fate? We reap what we sow. We are the makers of our own fate. None else has the blame, none has the praise. The wind is blowing; those vessels whose sails are unfurled catch it, and go forward on their way, but those which have their sails furled do not catch the wind. Is that the fault of the wind?
- For the world can be good and pure, only if our lives are good and pure. It is an effect, and we are the means. Therefore, let us purify ourselves.
- Education is not the amount of information that is put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested all your life. We must have life-building, man-making, character-making, assimilation of ideas. If you have assimilated five ideas and made them your life and character, you have more education than any man who has got by heart a whole library.
- Truth does not pay homage to any society, ancient and modern. Society has to pay homage to Truth or die. Societies should be moulded on truth, and truth has not to adjust itself to society ... That society is the greatest, where the highest truths become practical. That is my opinion; and if society is not fit for the highest truths, make it so; and the sooner, the better.
- Virtue is that which tends to our improvement, and vice to our degeneration. Man is made up of three qualities - brutal, human, and Godly. That which tends to increase the divinity in you is virtue, and that which tends to increase brutality in you is vice. You must kill the brutal nature and become human, that is, loving and charitable. You must transcend that too and become pure bliss ... fire without burning, wonderfully loving, but without the weakness of human love, without the feeling of misery.
- The secret of religion lies not in theories but in practice. To be good and do good - that is the whole of religion. 'Not he that crieth "Lord", "Lord", but he that doeth the will of the Father.'
- Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship or psychic control or philosophy - by one or more or all of these and be free.
- The only definition that can be given of morality is this: That which is selfish is immoral, and that which is unselfish is moral.
- Let us all be honest. If we cannot follow the ideal, let us confess our weakness, but not degrade it; let not any try to pull it down.
- Understand my words in their true spirit and apply yourself to work in their light ... I have given you advice enough; now put atleast something in practice.

(Read the life history of Vivekananda. The compiled teachings of Swami Vivekananda is also available online for free. It is also available as a book: Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda.)

Related » Desmond Tutu