A willingness to begin again

Much of our ability to build the habits we want to build and thus design the life we want to have relies on our willingness to begin again.

We don’t need to wait till the end of a calendar year or for a birthday or some other “significant” date to renew our commitments.

Today can be just as significant if we simply begin again.

As every habit worth building will likely require us to recommit to it, building the mental flexibility to begin again turns out to be among the most powerful habit building tools we have on our hands.

Read from cover to cover

“This is not a book to be read from cover to cover and then put away. Live with it, pick it up frequently, and more importantly, put it down frequently, or spend more time holding it than reading it. Many readers will feel naturally inclined to stop reading after each entry, to pause, reflect, become still. It is always more helpful and more important to stop reading than to continue reading.” | Eckhart Tolle in his book “Stillness Speaks”

“It is always more helpful and more important to stop reading than to continue reading” is a beautiful way to think about learning from what we read.

The most accessible form of therapy

Someone I know believes that a key part of their role as a manager is as a therapist. Their reasoning is straightforward – “Everybody needs a shrink. And, it is often the manager’s role to be that person.”

I’ve come to believe in the “everybody needs a shrink” idea over time.

We all have work through complex situations and heady problems as part of our day-to-day. And, we benefit when we have someone in our lives who is committed to listening and helping without judging. Some of us hire a therapist or psychologist. Others are fortunate to have someone who plays that role in their lives during periods of need.

I’ve also come to believe that the most accessible form of therapy is writing.

If you’re feeling stuck or stressed, try writing about it.

If you’re feeling unclear about something, again, write (or type).

Don’t worry about writing well. Just put your thoughts down.

The act of doing so will clarify the situation.

While writing doesn’t and cannot replace the role of an effective therapist to a patient in need, it offers a great starting point. More regular writing is definitely a step that leads to better mental and emotional health. And, perhaps most importantly, it is an easily accessible step.

The onus is just on us to start.

The Pygmalion effect

In 1964, teachers in an elementary school in San Francisco were given the results of an IQ test. They learned the names of 20% of their class who were going to be “intellectual bloomers” – i.e., expected to record large IQ gains during the year.

A year later, a follow up IQ test found that the prediction came true – the bloomers did bloom. First grade bloomers even registered a gain of 27 IQ points(!) relative to the rest.

There was just one twist – the bloomers were selected completely at random. The cause of their bloom wasn’t their intellect as much as it was the belief their teachers had in them. That belief showed up in the feedback they received, the approval they were given, and the patience they were afforded.

56 years later, the “Pygmalion effect” still remains among the most powerful, inspiring, and mystical psychological findings.

It may just be at the core of why we describe some folks to be inspirational – their belief in our ability to be better.

Perhaps we could begin going down that path by starting with ourselves…

Recomitting to NVC

Marshall Rosenberg’s Non Violent Communication (NVC) was among the most impactful books I read in 2018. It came at a time when I needed a reminder that my default setting of attempting to “fight fire with fire” wasn’t working with our 2 year old.

While the lessons grasped from the book served me well in 2019, I’ve been feeling a resurgence of that familiar impatience with our kids in the past months.

It is clear that I haven’t learnt them yet – a good reminder to recommit to NVC. It was time to summon more patience, observe more, and raise my voice less.

Habits that matter take time to build. And, building them is an exercise in reminding ourselves to recommit.

Here’s to that.

Serena Williams v Kim Clijsters

It is January 2003 and we’re at the Australian Open in Melbourne. Serena Williams is playing Kim Clijsters.

Kim Clijsters is the more established star of the two and takes control of the game in the third set by racing to a 5-1 lead.

Serena holds serve. 5-2.

Kim serves. She has her first matchpoint. Saved.

Then her second matchpoint (advantage following a deuce). At this point, you’re thinking that Serena is done. Kim is enroute to being world number 1 that year and is likely going to take it.

But, Serena saves again.

A few more exchanges later, Serena takes the set.

Kim is still 5-3 up though. You figure that she has another chance to serve and win 6-4.

But, she doesn’t. Instead, she makes two costly double faults that ensure Serena breaks.

And, before you know it, Serena has won the game 7-5.

There have been many great comeback in sports over the years. And, tennis certainly has seen many.

But, you always have a few that stick with you. I vividly recall watching that game in our living room back home blown away at the fight Serena Williams displayed that day.

The memory of that comeback still inspires me. It is a reminder of the fact that being good at something doesn’t mean things get easy.

It never gets easier. You just learn to fight better. And, Serena Williams has certainly done that in her storied career.