Let us look at three golden principles that are the bedrock to building new and happy habits.
Many a time, people tell me that they sit down to meditate but their mind wanders off. Or that they tried to learn a new skill but it was too hard. How come certain people acquire and champion new habits almost effortlessly where many others fail terribly? Let me begin with the story of the Chinese Bamboo Tree.
The Chinese Bamboo is rather unusual. Unlike other bamboo trees, it doesn’t grow at all for a long time. At least, nothing appears on the outside. You plant the seed, water it, and nurture it but nothing sprouts. You may even think that the seed has already perished. A whole year goes by and there’s no growth, not even a sign of a sapling.
You continue nurturing it but again nothing shows up in the second year either. Year three, nothing. Year four, nothing. Nothing at all. Year five, nothing. No matter how well you fertilize or care for the seed, there are no results in the first sixty months. Nothing tangible, anyway. Finally, at the end of five years, you see a small sprout. Two tender leaves force their way out of the ground.
How fast could it possibly grow if it took five years just to show its face, one wonders? Well, the bamboo plant actually shoots up as high eighty feet in merely six weeks. For the first five years when nothing seemed to be happening, it was growing beneath the ground.
I can’t think of a more apt story when it comes to building new habits. Most of us give up too easily, too soon. When you want to build a new habit, expect no results in the beginning. If you are serious about mastering a new skill, just keep inching towards your goal. One step at a time.
Acquiring any skill or habit is akin to the Chinese Bamboo tree. You plant the seed and you keep caring for it, regularly, steadily, carefully. And once a strong foundation is in place, you will soar high in practically no time. A few months ago, I wrote Why do Your Plans Fail? (Here). Let me share with you the three golden rules of building any new habit.
Take it as a given that it’s going to be hard in the beginning, even boring. Learning anything new is bound to have a set of challenges. To reach a state where it becomes effortless, you have to put in a great deal of practice. It takes a concert pianist an average of 10,000 hours of practice before they reach that “expert” level. Practice. Practice. Practice. When you are bored, practice a bit. When you think, you are tired of practicing, refresh your practice. When you feel you can’t go on, practice a bit more anyway. Gradually increase the intensity, quality, and duration of your practice.
If you don’t give up, you can’t fail. For example, if you are learning to meditate, don’t expect that you will start diving in the ocean of tranquility within the first few hundred hours. Don’t expect that just because you are determined to meditate, your mind will go quiet. It took me several thousand hours of intense, mindful, and correct practice before I began experiencing different states of consciousness. Patience is the key. It becomes much easier to be patient if you don’t have unreasonable expectations from yourself.
I once read a beautiful quote by Max Lucado: “The one who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” As you progress with focus, you learn to know which or whose feedback you need to act on versus what to reject. By focus, I mean a sort of mindfulness. If you are practicing patiently, chances are you are focusing anyway. If you want long-lasting results from your practice, however, you have to be mindful.
Going back to the example of meditation, while meditating, pay attention to every passing moment, every emerging thought, every inhalation, and exhalation. This razor-sharp alertness will take your practice to an entirely new level. It’s the art of turning inward and listening to your own voice.
Mulla Nasrudin bought his wife a new piano for her birthday. The neighbors would hear her practice every day, several hours in a day. A couple of weeks later, the sound of piano stopped coming from their home.
“What happened, Mulla?” they asked him. “Your wife doesn’t practice piano anymore?”
“For heaven’s sake,” Mulla exclaimed, “don’t even mention piano. I had her switch to flute with great difficulty.”
“Because with a flute,” he replied, “at least, she can’t sing while playing…”
Don’t switch (and don’t sing either if you are just starting out). Humor aside, if you really want to master any new habit then keep practicing quietly.
To build a new habit or to champion a new skill, somewhere, you have to want it desperately. More desperately than gaining others’ approval. Those who don’t have the same vision as you will disagree with you (sometimes with all the right intentions). There will be those who won’t believe in you, but if you are serious then all you have to do is to continue practicing patiently and mindfully.
In anything that you undertake, if you don’t give up, you’ll move from a phase of intense effort to absolute effortlessness.
The higher you want to rise, the deeper your roots need to be. It’s the depth that takes time. If you are not afraid of going deep, you will have no fear of heights either.
Art of Meditation
Free yourself and Live life to the fullest. Learn the yogic technique of meditation in 4 days (and master it over a lifetime)
Are you interested in improving your life for the good? Here are some insights that will help you incorporate new good habit/s in your life. Read on to learn different ways in which you can build new and happy habits.
Happy Habits: An uncommon perspective for leading a happier and successful life
It’s always a joy to speak to someone who’s devoted their life to a meaningful pursuit. There’s always so much to learn from such people, I feel. They offer you a fresh perspective on life and things in general. A few months earlier, Vidit Gujrathi made his way to the ashram. Vidit became a chess grandmaster at the age of 18 and he’s the thirtieth highest-rated chess player in the world, and the third highest-rated chess player in India, after Viswanathan Anand and Pentala Harikrishna. Here’s the video for you which gives you a perspective on building happy habits which leads to a happy life.
What habits can I cultivate to improve the overall happiness in my life?
Happiness, I shared with them, is an outcome and not always a feeling. More often than not, happiness is the result, reward, or consequence of our mental, physical, and verbal actions. If I’m content, if I’m leading a life of purpose, I’ll be happy. Otherwise, I’m likely to feel empty. A feeling of emptiness stems directly from a meaningless life. The absence of warm and fulfilling relationships also make our lives meaningless and nag us with a constant sense of emptiness. Read more here to learn all about the two principles of happiness.
What practice can help improve the happiness quotient in my life and in the process help me build a habit that I wish to have?
Whenever you are tempted to do anything bad, or you are angry and want to give someone your piece of mind, just delay it by twenty-four hours. Never respond in haste. And, any time you have the opportunity to do any good, never postpone it. Do it immediately.
A series of good choices, a series of right actions eventually come around to insulate you from the undesirable situations and events in life. Really, it’s that simple. Good thoughts, words, and actions culminate to become your shield. It’s not that life will stop shooting arrows, but you stand protected. Read more here.
Which habits one should build for leading a healthy life?
Here are my ten principles I don’t violate, saving the rarest of the rare circumstances. Never:
- skip my meals.
- eat deep-fried food.
- eat starchy or processed food.
- gorge on sugary stuff.
- drink bottled soft drinks of any kind (except, rarely, sparkling water).
- have two consecutive meals that are not whole-wheat.
- stay in someone’s home. I need my personal space to eat, work, meet, and exercise. Plus, more importantly, I get extremely uncomfortable causing unnecessary inconvenience to the hosts
- stay in a hotel that can’t offer me the right environment to stick to my routine of sleep, diet, and exercise (I travel a fair bit so, this is important to me).
- eat without saying grace. I like to offer everything to Mother Divine before I eat.
- I’m still thinking about the tenth principle. I wrote ten because it sounds more prophetic. Just joking…my tenth principle is that I never overeat. Read more here.
What are some of the habits that happy and successful people have in life?
Every single happy person, and every successful person, without fail, has a sense of individual purpose, almost a sort of passion. Look around, and you’ll know what I mean. Often, it’s not even a grand plan or a gigantic goal; it is merely something they love doing. Whether that’s feeding the poor or following the stars, ice hockey or scuba diving, coding software or writing books, dancing or doodling, soccer or stitching, it doesn’t matter. They are passionate about something. Read more here.
Why is it so difficult to break old habits? Is there a way to break them and build new, happy habits?
One definitive way to self-transformation is to write down the one habit you wish to drop and make a deliberate effort to do so over the next forty days. Whether you are building a new habit or dropping an existing one, the amount of effort and time required is roughly the same. So, don’t start both at the same time. Either resolve to shed an existing one or take the time out to build a new one, but not both concurrently. For each habit you renounce, a bit of the old you, the undesirable you, will disappear. And, for every new one you inculcate, a part of you will transform. Read more here.
What should I do to build the habits that I want?
You can’t force it. Sometimes to change yourself or the other person, you just have to wait for the time when the bearer of such change is ready. The willingness to change must be accompanied by readiness or it won’t last. Besides, all great things take time. The teacher or master can have all the knowledge to impart but if the student isn’t ready, nothing will get through. Read more here.
How to quit old habits, form new habits and become someone who sets and achieves goals?
Do you know your greatest strength in attaining your goals? Your habits. And your greatest weakness? Your habits.
“Oh! How beautiful,” sighed Mulla. “Right now, I would not trade places with anybody for even a million dollars.”
“How about for a hundred million?” asked his friend heightening the appeal to insane levels.
“Nope. Not even for the combined wealth of the whole world would I give this up!”
“Well, how about three? I can give you three dollars right now to leave this place.”
“Hmm…Three? Alright, that’s different. Now you are talking real money,” said Mulla sitting up with the intention to move.
This anecdote underscores a beautiful message: your mind does not take even the most lucrative dreams seriously but it is willing to act on the tiniest of real possibilities of rewards, of gains.
You eat real food, you work real jobs, you wear real clothes, why not have real goals? Reality does not always mean that you need to aim low, it means you genuinely believe it to be practical. Read more here to learn what it takes to break old habits, create new, happy habits, and achieve goals.