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…

Standards

One of the most consequential decisions we make every day are the standards we choose for how we behave and ship our work.

In short run, we get to make these standards for ourselves.

In the long run, they make us.

Fires

It’s been a devastating few days near us.

Many have lost their homes. Many others have their bags packed in case an evacuation order comes their way tonight.

The rest who’ve avoided these fires (dumb luck) have been staying indoors doing their best to avoid the smoke. This is while hoping evacuation zones don’t widen and with accompanying attempts to maintain some semblance of normalcy amidst the chaos.

Diego Saez-Gil, a resident of Boulder Creek, shared this pic of his burnt down home.

Diego is also the CEO and the Founder of Pachama, a start-up committed to restoring forests to fight climate change. He shared a beautiful post about how this tragedy only makes this mission more personal.

Leah Stokes, a Professor at UC Santa Barbara and a leading thinker on environmental policy, had a thoughtful article explaining what happened and why we need to continue to act with urgency in moving toward a grid driven by renewables. Of course, given the circumstances, she found it important to remind us – “What’s happening in California has a name: climate change.”

Remembering this isn’t going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. We’ve still got billions of dollars invested by folks with entrenched interests in fossil fuels to ensure climate denial continues to find its place in mainstream media.

But, as much as it is easy to point fingers (and it is), science has always worked this way. Galileo Galilei spent a large part of his life under house arrest for asserting that the Sun was at the center of the solar system.

And, if we need a recent example, one need only to look as far at the state of COVID-19 in the United States.

So, the fight will need to continue. And, as we move from this fire to the next extreme weather event to the one after that, we’ll probably need fewer reminders of the fact that the stakes are higher this time around.

Or at least that’s hope.


PS: I find myself thinking of Valery Legasov’s note from time to time.

“To be a scientist is to be naive. We are so focused on our search for truth, we fail to consider how few actually want us to find it. But it is always there, whether we see it or not, whether we choose to or not. The truth doesn’t care about our needs or wants. It doesn’t care about our governments, our ideologies, our religions. It will lie in wait for all time. And this, at last, is the gift of Chernobyl. Where I once would fear the cost of truth, now I only ask: “What is the cost of lies?”

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.