Tag Archives: Smoking

It’s just the difference between acting and reacting

A change is always tough. Most of us are sure that there are certain things that need to change in our lives. But when we attempt to change, there are all kinds of problems; uneasiness, fear, agony and depression. Even if we are able to change some thing (like a habit), there is a high probability of relapse after a period of uncertainty. I have wondered about it; often triggered by my attempts to stop smoking. When I did quit finally (rather easily), it gave me a new perception about the issue.

I think the problem is fundamentally with the point of change. Here is the theory : The difference between success and failure (or misery and happiness) is a simple choice between acting and reacting. Look at the picture below:

Action and Reaction

Say you are at the point Z and need to take a decision. You have two choices. One is to go by the patterns (or mind) which is usually the reactive path. The moment you align your mind in this way, mind starts further strengthening and reinforcing the point of view. You are then lead in one direction as indicated by the green line (the lines around it indicate the reinforcing mind patterns). There is another choice. That’s not to go by the patterns (mind), but to be aware or listen to your consciousness. This is the path of action, indicated by the red line. Even here, the mind does strengthen and reinforce the thinking.

Every moment in life we are actually at the point Z. If we can be aware and not get carried away by the mind, perhaps we can take right decisions for the future. This is rather simple.

But when it comes to change, the problem is more complex. The decision point is actually somewhere in the past and we have say taken a reactive approach and proceeded in one direction. Assume, it has taken us to Y. Now we want to change. We want to be at X. So we take a decision and convince ourselves to be at X. But this is just temporary. Soon the old patterns become dominant and you are mercilessly dragged to Y. When that happens the reinforcement is further strengthened and you are more convinced that you cannot change.

So where is the problem? You should actually be first moving to Z (and not X). This will demand that you work through the conditioning of the mind slowly and remove them. When you are at the point Z, look at the decision again. With the correct mindset or awareness, you can take the right decision and take the path towards X. Since the conditioning has been taken care of, they don’t trouble you hard and in no time new patterns are formed.

 Let’s understand this with an example. Take smoking. Assume you are a smoker (because at some point in your life, you decided to try it apparently for no reason) and you are trying to quit now. You are at Y, and have lot of stuff built already around it in the mind like – Smoking helps me relax, It reduces my stress, it’s difficult to stop this etc. You also want to escape and you want to be, say at X ,where you are free from the habit.

Action and Reaction eg

Now you project yourself to be at X (whatever method you use – Cold turkey, cutting down etc). For a day or two, you are better off (at X), but soon the patterns become active (and there are things going on in the mind like – perhaps this is not the right time, I should actually cut down etc..)  and you feel miserable. And soon you are pulled back to point Y (you relapse). The more this happens, you are even more convinced that you can never escape, because every failure reinforces your conviction that you cannot quit.

Why this happens? You were at the point Z, several times in your life; say whenever you are smoking or whenever you tried to resist the temptation. And when you decided to smoke, you actually said: This is enjoying and relaxing. This has taken you in one direction and all the conditioning is built around it. Even if you are successful with this approach to quit, you are likely to be depressed and miserable, because the basic decision is in question.

So in order to really escape, you need to go back to the point Z and rephrase the mindset. An example could be : “ This has been a dreadful disease that’s taken control of me, I am now stepping out. It feels so great to be free”.

Now there are three elements. You, Smoking and the act of Quitting (or not doing it). So at the point Z you have to use these three to construct a direction statement. You know what most smokers do? They construct it something like this : “ Though smoking helps me to relax, now because of my bad health, I have to somehow stop it. I am going to try it real hard. I am not sure if I will succeed, I have failed many times before. But I will try it hard this time”. This takes them straight to the path of misery. 

But if you can construct a direction statement like “ I am escaping from this dreadful disease, it is so great. I do not need to do this again”. You take the other direction.

It’s not just a simple affirmation statement in the mind. You need to use awareness (and reflection) to go deeper and deeper till you find the basic decision making point and make the change. And this change will be easy and permanent.

This might rather look simple, but if you understand it, it is the key to change.

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Balancing the change – The improving and worsening parameters

There is a technique in TRIZ for conflict problem solving. The essence of the technique is that when we try to improve a parameter of a system, there is another parameter that is worsened.  Typically a compromise is arrived at balancing both the parameters. An example would be the power and fuel efficiency of the car, when you try to improve one, the other suffers. And this is the gap where innovation finds its scope – is there a way we can have a more powerful car with the same fuel efficiency? This would mean that we will need to create a new engine or is there a way to boost up the power output by external means…and so on.

The crux of the theory is that, every system is balanced in some way and when we change any of it’s parameters, that creates an imbalance.

This applies to our life too, when we try to change. Whatever is our personality or habits, at any given point of time; we are balanced (at least in our own view). Now when we are making a change (like you drop a habit like smoking) this leads to an imbalance. While the imbalance gets corrected over a period of time automatically, there is always a tendency to come back to the last balanced state automatically. I think this makes the changes difficult. Mind (or some external triggers) will try to trick us to go back to the ‘old balanced state’ and mostly we give in after some initial struggle. People who have been smokers will tell how miserable it is when they try to stop.

I think it’s essential to know how to retain the balance when we make a change. One reason why this is difficult is that while the improvement parameter is rather ‘physical’ the worsening one is ‘virtual’ (by physical what I mean is those we can feel as an entity in space, time or as an object or activity. Virtual ones are subtle, often in the mind which we cannot really feel or predict or measure). While we plan to change the physical parameter, typically we ignore the virtual one. For e.g, you take a decision that you are not going to smoke again. You list out all the reasons not to smoke again and take your plunge. But you ignore the ‘virtual’ part, which is the deprivation, misery and depression. You either decide to take them on as they come or hope they will not come. The moment you stop smoking, an imbalance is created. The mind will use all the virtual parameters as excuses to force you to go back to the old balanced state of a ‘smoker’.

So how do we tackle this? We shouldn’t take just one decision, but take two – one for the improving parameter and the other for the worsening parameter. So in this case it would be like this: (1) I will not smoke again and (2) I will be so happy about it. Provided you stick to both the decisions equally, a new balanced state will be created without much struggle.

In some cases where both the parameters are physical, this balancing happens rather automatically. For e.g you decide to wake up early from now on, you will naturally know that you need to go to bed earlier than usual. But in some cases, the worsening parameter lies hidden. For e.g you want to bring more focus to your work and you decide to spend more time in office. You know, this means you will spend less time with your family. But the real ‘worsening parameter’ here is that your family is not going to be happy about this change and at some point of time, the issue surfaces and may be an argument breaks out and you have your good excuse to go back to your old habits. So what could be the solution here – you also take a decision that you will well compensate for your reduced time with family with increased quality. This will create the balance for the change the family will undergo.

I think when we are able to move from one balanced state to another while making a change, changes will be effortless. Identifying the right improving and worsening parameters will be the key to this.

An insight to making firm decisions

All of us make decisions in life. We decide to do something or we decide not to do something or change the way we do something. While we are successful sometimes, there are also quiet many failures. (By success I mean that we are able to stick to the decision and failure the opposite)

Have you ever wondered why we aren’t successful always? Even if we thought about it, we are most likely to attribute it to things like our will power. One reason why we are unable to see a pattern in our own decisions (and the success and failures) is that every time the decisions are different and look unique. It’s very rare we take the same decision over and over again.

 I had the great privilege of being a heavy smoker for many years. I had made numerous attempts to quit, and one important ritual in every attempt was my taking the decision ‘not to smoke ever in my life’. I failed repeatedly. Sometimes it was immediate; sometimes it took few hours, days or weeks before I succumbed to the temptation. Sometimes I was miserable and some other times happy.

When I analyzed these failures, I could see there were two separate aspects. One was the decision making itself and the other sustaining it through maintaining the mindset. If I made a good decision, that helped me have a great start. I could overcome the initial hurdle without serious problems. Similar to a rocket gaining the escape velocity to overcome the earth’s gravitational pull.But if the decision it self was weak, I failed almost immediately. Even when I made a good decision, my failure came from the second aspect – where could not sustain it.

So, when was it that I could take a good decision? I saw two scenarios:

  1. When I had done enough reflection and introspection (why am I doing this, what is it doing for me..etc)
  2. After an emotional outburst.

But still I couldn’t figure out why was my decisions were stronger in the above scenarios.

 Months later, I came across a technique from Yoga for making firm decisions. This is the technique:

Sit in with your eyes closed, spine erect. Take a deep breath and hold the breath inside. Now repeat the decision firmly and continuously in your mind. Keep holding the breath as long as you can. When you can’t hold any longer, breathe out completely. Now hold the breath outside and repeat the decision again in the mind. When you can’t any longer hold it out, breath in and hold and so on. Do this couple of times. And it seems, whatever decision you take like this, you wouldn’t be able to break even if you try to.

This was interesting. Holding breath is a stage in Pranayama called Kumbhaka. And what happens when you do Kumbhaka? – the mind stops (or the thoughts disappear). (Please do not attempt the above technique without guidance or knowledge)

Now the whole thing made sense. I could see a connection. I could see that in both the scenarios above, there was something interesting about the mind. In the first scenario, the deep reflection settled the mind (or the doubts) and the in the second mind just entered in to a void following an outburst. So in essence, I could see that the mind had to get out of the way if we have to take a firm decision. This is verified by the fact that there are times when I take a decision; I almost knew that it will not work. I could see that before even the decision is made, doubts arise in the mind and the decision is doomed even before it starts.

Based on this experience, I have formed a concept for making firm decisions:  If you have to make a firm decision, you need to first get the mind out of the way. Once the thoughts stop (mind doesn’t exist then – I like the analogy of mind and thoughts to forest and trees) take the decision. Allow it to sink deeply in to your self. You will find that the decision is successful, almost effortlessly.

So how to get the mind get out of your way? Here are few suggestions:

  1. Intense Mindfulness. Mindfulness literally kills your mind. When you are mindful, the decision making is good automatically, and you don’t need to do anything extra. But becoming mindful needs some preparation and effort
  2. Intense prayer and surrender – This also settles the mind, especially when there is fear about the decision or you feel helpless
  3. Deep reflection and introspection. In cases where your mind is cluttered about the decision. For e.g smoking, on one side you really want to stop and on the other side you fear that you will miss your friend. Do a deep reflection to get clarity, this will settle the mind and you can take a better decision.
  4. Certain techniques in yoga where you do breath retention (like Moorcha pranayama, Nadi Sodhana Pranayama with prolonged Kumbhaka or simply just holding the breath as mentioned above). They immediately result in a void, and this is the space where you actually take the decision. A void could also result by haphazard breathing for sometime. Techniques 2 or 3 followed by 4 will be your key to making firm decisions.

Sometimes, it is also possible that your mind becomes void or blank without any effort. If you are aware, you should be able to catch it (I have seen this happening ton me when I am physically exhausted)

But remember, taking decision is one of the aspects we need to master. Thoughts on sustaining that in another post.

Need for the ‘High’

This post is related to the one on fighting depression. I believe, every human being has a strong need to feel “High” at times. Some common examples I can think of are : Someone appreciating me for something I have done , Someone expressing gratitude towards me , accomplishing something after some good effort, just getting lucky…

There are the bigger “Highs”. I think we need to have some of them intermittently to really start loving your life. It’s there fore important to have hobbies, learn something new, connect with people, involve in social activities, set goals in your life and put effort to achieve them, celebrate your success etc.
If life seems monotonous, it’s partly because the “High” is missing (just reflect, when was the last time you had a High in life?)
For creative people, I think the need is higher, because typically creativity looks for appreciation.
While for some people, the High is just a personal thing (doesn’t depend on others – this definitely needs a higher state of mind), but for most it’s got to do with other people around us.

If you are in the process of transforming your life, it’s very important to find out what gives you the real genuine “High”. Identify what gives you the High and put things in place to make sure you have it often. Here are some examples:

  • If you get High when someone appreciates you, then start appreciating others. The moment you start it, see how others will return it
  •  If achieving something hard gives you that high, set tough goals for you. Achieve it and celebrate…
  • If you have creative talents in life, take them out. Do a painting and show off to people, write a story …

What is described above is rather straightforward. But have you wondered, why does this not occur to us naturally? I think that’s because at a different level, in our daily lives, there is a constant need for those small “highs”. They slowly reinforce the patterns and form your personality. Once we have those small ‘highs’ in our daily life, in whatever we do, the ‘bigger Highs’ is just a natural extension of it.

But then what prevents us from having those small Highs? Some possibilities:

  • We are too busy and caught up with life, we do not have time. We are not aware of what we are doing.
  • We falsely associate highs with material gains (which is not really genuine I would say, Ask yourself – If the feeling you get by watching a sunset the same as the feeling you get when you made some profit in the stock market? You might argue both are essential, I too agree. But the point I am trying to drive here is that choose those things that touch your soul, not your mind..)
  • We are not true to ourselves. We have been trying to fit in to different roles in life, moving away from our natural state of being. We don’t realize this initially, but at some point you suddenly realize that there is no purpose in life, it’s so boring.. Mostly by then, you do not have the urge to come back; you rather just resign.

So the point is , if you are able to bring these small “Highs” in to your life, naturally the bigger ones will follow. Now how can you get these small “highs” in your life? Some examples here:

  •  Enjoy what you do, put your head where your heart is
  • Slow down in life, don’t keep chasing one after the other . Have breaks between activities
  • Maintain good relationships, communicate cheerfully with people, appreciate them..
  • Plan your day, accomplish what you planned..
  • Spend time for reflection, develop gratitude in life…
  • Cultivate Mindfulness in life

You might want to look at your own life and see where those Highs are. Get them back. It could just be that you have a photo of your kid on your office desk, as you glance your heart is filled with love, joy and affection for a short moment. That will do.

Getting this high is going to be your biggest aid when you are trying to change your life, especially getting rid of bad habits like smoking. Without you realizing, these habits give you a false illusion of ‘High’ which you are going to miss when you try escape. If you understand this and ensure that you have real genuine “highs” in life, you can get rid of any habits without any issues. If you are apprehensive, look at all those who quit smoking (without really undergoing months of misery & depression) easily have started something that they loved which actually gave them the high –be it a marathon runner, be it a social worker whatever it is.
This is the key to saying No to your habits….