The small book by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles shares advice from the residents of the Japanese village with the highest percentage of 100-year-olds in the world. In addition to the wisdom about purposeful, active, shared lives of these seniors, the authors note the importance of the Japanese concepts of wabi-sabi and ichi-go ichi-e.
“Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that shows us the beauty of the fleeting, changeable, and imperfect nature of the world around us. Instead of searching for beauty in perfection, we should look for it things that are flawed, incomplete.
This is why the Japanese place such value, for example, on an irregular or cracked teacup. Only things that are imperfect, incomplete, and ephemeral can truly be beautiful, because only those things resemble the natural world.
A complementary Japanese concept is that of ichi-go ichi-e, which could be translated as ‘This moment exists only now and won’t come again.’ It is heard most often in social gatherings as a reminder that each encounter –whether with friends, family, or strangers–is unique and will never be repeated, meaning that we should enjoy the moment and not lose ourselves in worries about the past or the future.
The concept is commonly used in tea ceremonies, Zen meditation, and Japanese martial arts, all of which place emphasis on being present in the moment.
In the West, we’ve grown accustomed to the permanence of the stone buildings and cathedrals of Europe, which sometimes gives us the sense that nothing changes, making us forget about the passage of time. Greco-Roman architecture adores symmetry, sharp lines, imposing facades, and buildings and statues of the gods that outlast the centuries.
Japanese architecture, on the other hand, doesn’t try to be imposing or perfect, because it is built in the spirit of wabi-sabi. The tradition of making structures out of wood presupposes their impermanence and the need for future generations to rebuild them. Japanese culture accepts the fleeting nature of the human being and everything we create.
The Grand Shrine of Ise, for example, has been rebuilt every twenty years for centuries. The most important thing is not to keep the building standing for generations, but to preserve customs and traditions–things that can withstand the passage of time better than structures made by human hands.
The key is to accept that there are certain things over which we have no control, like the passage of time and the ephemeral nature of the world around us.
Ichi-go ichi-e teaches us to focus on the present and enjoy each moment that life brings us. This is why it is so important to find and pursue our ikigai [a meaning and purpose in life that keeps you busy or as the New York Post says, “ ikigai is the art of doing something—and doing it with supreme focus and joy”].
Wabi-sabi teaches us to appreciate the beauty of imperfection as an opportunity for growth” . . .
One step in lasting longer and being happier in your life is –
“Get rid of the things that make you fragile . . .
Ask yourself: What makes me fragile? Certain people, things, and habits generate losses for us and make us vulnerable. Who and what are they?
When we make our New Year’s resolutions, we tend to emphasize adding new challenges to our lives. It’s great to have this kind of objective, but setting ‘good riddance’ goals can have an even bigger impact. For example:
- Stop snacking between meals
- Eat sweets only once a week
- Gradually pay off all debt
- Avoid spending time with toxic people
- Avoid spending time doing things we don’t enjoy, simply because we feel obligated to do them
- Spend no more than twenty minutes on Facebook per day.
To build resilience into our lives, we shouldn’t fear adversity, because each setback is an opportunity for growth. If we adopt an antifragile attitude, we’ll find a way to get stronger with every blow, refining our lifestyle and staying focused on our ikigai.
Taking a hit or two can be viewed as either a misfortune or an experience that we can apply to all areas of our lives, as we continually make corrections and set new and better goals. As Taleb writes in Antifragile, ‘We need randomness, mess, adventures, uncertainty, self-discovery, near traumatic episodes, all these things that make life worth living.’ . . .
Life is pure imperfection, as the philosophy of wabi-sabi teaches us, and the passage of time shows us that everything is fleeting, but if you have a clear sense of your ikigai, each moment will hold so many possibilities that it will seem almost like an eternity” (p. 172-179).
No matter your age, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life is likely to give you useful ideas on how to lead a good life.
“[T]he Count had opted for the life of the purposefully unrushed. Not only was he disinclined to race toward some appointed hour—disdaining even to wear a watch—he took the greatest satisfaction when assuring a friend that a worldly matter could wait in favor of a leisurely lunch or a stroll along the embankment. . . .
When all was said and done, the endeavors that most modern men saw as urgent (such as appointments with bankers and the catching of trains), probably could have waited, while those they deemed frivolous (such as cups of tea and friendly chats) had deserved their immediate attention” (391).
From: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (I recommend this well-written novel)
Take time for a friend today – and make time for a good book too. Fulfilling these two resolutions each day will likely result in a wonderful 2018.
Happy New Year.
“There are three ways,” says Deepak Chopra, “to break down old conditioning:
— reflection, contemplation, and meditation. Their power increases in that order. . . .
Reflection–taking a second look at old habits, beliefs, and assumptions.
Contemplation–focusing on a thought or image until it expands as far as it can.
Meditation–finding the level of the mind that isn’t conditioned.
From: Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, p. 59-60.
Meditating can elevate us out of old, negative patterns.
Take the time. Do it.
Photos in Bali by RR
In this year when so much seems out of control – earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, floods, a mass shooting by a lone gunman in the U.S., ethnic massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, refugees trapped on borders, two world leaders with nuclear arms goading each other, the world seems more dangerous and full of suffering than ever before. Is there any cause for hope?
A recent newspaper article, an article about a book, and a book provide encouraging answers.
First, a friend pointed me to “Drop Your Weapons: What happens when you outlaw war” by Louis Menard in the September 18, 2017 edition of The New Yorker, pages 61-66.
Menard’s piece gives an overview of a recent Simon & Schuster book – The Internationalists, in which Oona A Hathaway and Scott J. Shipiro, two Yale Law School professors, argue that the Kellogg-Briand Pact [the 1928 agreement that by 1934, sixty-three countries – virtually every established nation on earth at the time had signed] effectively ended the use of war as an instrument of national policy.
The book asks and answers,
“Did a largely forgotten peace pact transform the world we live in?
Please read this article, which is only five – very informative pages (and if possible, the book). Go to: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/09/18/what-happens-when-war-is-outlawed
The second piece I’ve seen recently that offers us hope for now is a book recommended by my friend Melinda who is very familiar with peace activities in the world. She lived in Japan for 18 years. While she was there, she interviewed “Hibakusha” (被爆者). In Japanese, it is the word for those surviving the radiation fallout of 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Last month, Melinda won the 2017 Kellogg-Briand a peace prize for her writing. She lent me When the World Outlawed War:
In this book, David Swanson tells the history of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the law that made war illegal – and offers us ideas what can be done to promote international peace.
Today few people know of the Kellogg-Briand Pact agreement, and the energies of some of our leaders seem to inflame the possibility of war.
“The Kellogg-Briand Pact, 1928
The Kellogg-Briand Pact was an agreement to outlaw war signed on August 27, 1928. Sometimes called the Pact of Paris for the city in which it was signed, the pact was one of many international efforts to prevent another World War, but it had little effect in stopping the rising militarism of the 1930s or preventing World War II.
U.S. Peace Advocates
In the wake of World War I, U.S. officials and private citizens made significant efforts to guarantee that the nation would not be drawn into another war. Some focused on disarmament, such as the series of naval conferences that began in Washington in 1921, and some focused on cooperation with the League of Nations and the newly formed World Court. Others initiated a movement to try to outlaw war outright. Peace advocates Nicholas Murray Butler and James T. Shotwell were part of this movement. Both men were affiliated with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an organization dedicated to promoting internationalism that was established in 1910 by leading American industrialist Andrew Carnegie.
With the influence and assistance of Shotwell and Butler, French Minister of Foreign Affairs Aristide Briand proposed a peace pact as a bilateral agreement between the United States and France to outlaw war between them. Particularly hard hit by World War I, France faced continuing insecurity from its German neighbor and sought alliances to shore up its defenses. Briand published an open letter in April of 1927 containing the proposal. Though the suggestion had the enthusiastic support of some members of the American peace movement, U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg were less eager than Briand to enter into a bilateral arrangement. They worried that the agreement against war could be interpreted as a bilateral alliance and require the United States to intervene if France was ever threatened. To avoid this, they suggested that the two nations take the lead in inviting all nations to join them in outlawing war.
The extension of the pact to include other nations was well-received internationally. After the severe losses of the First World War, the idea of declaring war to be illegal was immensely popular in international public opinion. Because the language of the pact established the important point that only wars of aggression – not military acts of self-defense – would be covered under the pact, many nations had no objections to signing it. If the pact served to limit conflicts, then everyone would benefit; if it did not, there were no legal consequences. In early 1928, negotiations over the agreement expanded to include all of the initial signatories. In the final version of the pact, they agreed upon two clauses: the first outlawed war as an instrument of national policy and the second called upon signatories to settle their disputes by peaceful means.
On August 27, 1928, fifteen nations signed the pact at Paris. Signatories included France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Italy and Japan. Later, . . . the pact was eventually signed by most of the established nations in the world. The U.S. Senate ratified the agreement by a vote of 85–1, though it did so only after making reservations to note that U.S. participation did not limit its right to self-defense or require it to act against signatories breaking the agreement.”
Besides giving the history of the Pact, Swanson suggests, “We should learn to support multiple strategies (Outlawry, referendum power, disarmament, etc.) without framing each as the rival or enemy of the others. Here are some [aimed mainly at the U.S. but many could apply to other countries too]:
- Cut a half a trillion dollars out of the $1.2 trillion national security budget, putting half of it into tax cuts for non-billionaires, and half of it into useful spending on green energy, education, retraining for displaced military=industrial workers, etc.
- Bring the National Guard home and de-federalize it.
- Ban the redeployment of personnel currently suffering PTSD.
- Ban no-bid uncompeted military contracts.
- Restore constitutional war powers to the Congress.
- Create a requirement for a public referendum prior to launching any war.
- Close the foreign bases.
- Ban weapons from space.
- Ban extra-legal prisons.
- Ban kangaroo military courts outside our ordinary court system.
- Restore habeas corpus.
- Ban the use of mercenaries.
- Limit military spending to no more than twice that of the next highest spending nation on earth.
- Ban secret budgets, secret agencies, and secret operations.
- Ban the launching of drone strikes into foreign nations.
- Forbid the transfer of students’ information to military recruiters without their permission.
- Comply with the Kellogg-Briand Pact.
- Reform or replace the United Nations.
- Join the International Criminal Court and make it independent of the United Nations.
We should stop appealing purely to people’s selfishness with arguments about financial costs or U.S. casualties and appeal also to their goodness and decency. . . .”(166-167).
“One of General Douglas MacArthur’s last speeches . . . is still worth reading:
‘The great question is: Can global war now be outlawed from the world? If so, it would mark the greatest advance in civilization since the Sermon on the Mount. It would lift at one stroke the darkest shadow which has engulfed mankind from the beginning. It would not only remove fear and bring security — it would not only create new moral and spiritual values —
it would produce an economic wave of prosperity that would raise the world’s standard of living beyond anything ever dreamed of by man. The hundreds of billions of dollars now spent in mutual preparedness [for war] could conceivably abolish poverty from the face of the earth. It would accomplish even more than this; it would at one stroke reduce the international tensions that seem to be insurmountable now, to matters of more probable solution. . . . Many will tell you with mockery and ridicule that the abolition of war can be only a dream — that it is but the vague imagining of a visionary. But we must go on or we will go under.[My emphasis]. And the great criticism that can be made is that the world lacks a plan that will enable us to go on. We have suffered the blood and the sweat and the tears. Now we seek the way and the truth and the light. We are in a new era. The old methods and solutions for this vital problem no longer suffice. We must have new thoughts, new ideas, new concepts . . . We must have sufficient imagination and courage to translate this universal wish for peace — which is rapidly becoming a universal necessity — into actuality'” [My emphasis](168-169).
From When the World Outlawed War by David Swanson. www.barnesandnoble.com/p/when-the-world-outlawed-war-david-swanson/1106980382/2673297777290?st=PLA&sid=BNB_DRS_Marketplace+Shopping+greatbookprices_00000000&2sid=Google_&sourceId=PLGoP24104
The third piece I’ve seen recently is from the October 7, 2017 Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “Nobel Peace Prize: Anti-Nuclear advocates earn honor,” by Rick Gladstone.
“In a year when the threat of nuclear warfare seemed to draw closer, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to a advocacy group behind the first treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.
The group, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons [ican], a Geneva-based coalition of disarmament activists, was honored for its efforts to advance the negotiations that led to the treaty, which was reached in July at the United Nations.
‘The organization is receiving the award for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons,’ the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in a statement” (A3).
Despite all the news with cause for alarm, in some ways, some very important ways, the world is heading toward peace.
Let’s all be the change we hope to see: support peace and sustainability for all. In peace and light,
Ideas do matter – and, of course, our actions. Aloha, Renée
Recently at a Friends’ meeting, Kate and Marv reminded me of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Published in 1997, the book is a personal growth classic. Amazon says, The Four Agreements “reveal the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, The Four Agreements offer a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love.”
Image from: https://www.facebook.com/donMiguelRuiz/
The Four Agreements offer good guidelines for our lives.
In Alain De Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy comes a quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche supporting the idea that difficulties of every sort are to be welcomed by those seeking fulfillment.
So sure was he of the benefits that could result from suffering, Nietzche wrote:
“To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities – I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished” (206).
Nietzsche noted, “If only we were fruitful fields, we would at bottom let nothing perish unused and see in every event, thing and man welcome manure” (224).
“Fulfillment is reached by responding wisely to difficulties that could tear one apart. Nietzsche urged us to endure” (230). And – never drink.
“Why? Because Raphael had not drunk to escape his envy in Urbino in 1504, he had gone to Florence and learned how to be a great painter. Because Stendhal had not drunk in 1805 to escape his despair . . ., he had gardened the pain for seventeen years and published De l’amour in 1822.
‘If you refuse to let your own suffering lie upon you even for an hour and if you constantly try to prevent and forestall all possible distress way ahead of time; if you experience suffering and displeasure as evil, hateful, worthy of annihilation, and as a defect of existence, then it is clear that [you harbour in your heart] . . . the religion of comfortableness. How little you know of human happiness, you comfortable . . . people, for happiness and unhappiness are sisters and even twins that either grow up together or, as in your case, remain small together'” (233).
Image from: https://readtiger.com/wkp/en/Friedrich_Nietzsche
Nietzsche himself had a hard life. He was plagued with health problems. He advocated a life among friends, but was profoundly lonely, extremely poor, obscure during his lifetime, and unlucky in love. Wikipedia notes that “In 1889, at age 44, he suffered a collapse and a complete loss of his mental faculties. He died in 1900 from late-stage paralytic syphilis.
May the suffering in your life help you grow in numerous ways.
If you are a woman – especially a “successful” woman – you likely expect yourself to do it all – at home and at work, and to do it with a smile and homemade cupcakes to send to your child’s class. These expectations lead to 60-70 + hour work weeks, kids who are on their own much of the time – or glued to electronics, and a husband you barely see.
“Those of us committed to our careers and our families, who are unable or don’t want to pause or slow down our career pursuits, end up more exhausted, stressed out, depleted, and sick than any previous generation of women,” says Tiffany Dufu in her book, dr p the ball: achieving more by doing less.
Gloria Steinem notes, “Drop the Ball is more than a personal memoir; it’s also a manifesto. I want women to know that their individual problem is a collective one, too. The research is unequivocal: the most complex problems are best solved by a diverse group of people. Yet the highest levels of leadership are glutted with the same type: male, white, straight, able-bodied, and wealthy. This has been true since the dawn of our country two and a half centuries ago. Don’t get me wrong. Like many of our founding fathers, today’s corporate decision makers are accomplished, smart, and well meaning. It’s just that now that it’s the twenty-first century, their lens is too narrow to address gigantic problems like economic inequality, climate change, terrorism, or the decline of America’s educational system. If we care about these problems, we have to care about the women whose help we need to solve them. . . . We need a Drop the Ball movement–not just to prevent working mothers from crashing but to fast-forward history” (9).
Even if you now do not have young children and are in the middle of your career, Dufu provides useful models and ideas for everyone stressed out by all we feel we must do.
Her definition of “Drop the Ball” is – “to release unrealistic expectations of doing it all and engage others to achieve what matters most to us, deepening our relationships and enriching our lives” (xv).
Dufu learned “the importance of focusing attention on the areas where we bring the most value . . . instead of on the areas where we might be better than others because of experience alone. . . . What you do is less important than the difference you make. I could spend my entire life checking off items on my to-do list, and in the end, it would make very little difference. I didn’t want my epitaph to read, ‘She got a lot of stuff done.’ Instead, I had to figure out how I, and I alone, could make a difference–and this was as true for my homelife as it was for my professional one. Where could I be most useful in order to achieve the things that mattered most? . . .
This is the Law of Comparative Advantage: “just because you’re better at doing something doesn’t mean you doing it is the most productive use of your time” (94). . . .
“Prior to my comparative advantage realization, my to-do list looked like this: grocery run, schedule preschool tours, pickup dry cleaning, call Uncle Kenny re: surgery, order Lisa’s shower gift, marinate chicken, review Seattle flooring estimate, get Kofi [her son] umbrella stroller. All these tasks had to be fit into my day, on top of then hours at the office and whatever was on my professional to-do list.
Here’s what happened to my list when I put each item to the comparative advantage test, asking myself if I was working toward my highest and best use by doing the task in question:
Grocery run: No. I could love Kojo [her husband], raise conscious global citizens [her children], and advance women and girls [her job] without going grocery shopping.
Schedule preschool tours: No. The environment where Kofi will spend nearly nine hours a day, five days a week will definitely shape him. To raise a conscious global citizen, I definitely need to attend the tours, but I guess someone else could schedule them.
Pick up dry cleaning: No.
Call Uncle Kenny re: surgery: Yes, I need to do this one. It’s meaningful for my uncle to hear his niece’s voice checking in on him. I want Kofi to know how important family is. Maintaining this relationship is critical. Plus, delegating this task to someone else would be callous.” . . .
Out of the eight items on my original to-do list, only one of them was critical for me to complete myself in order to accomplish what mattered most to me. Only one represented my highest and best use. To be clear, the other tasks on the to-do list still needed to be attended to, and I wasn’t sure how they would all get done. What was different was my perspective: now I was certain I would not be the one to do them all. Instead of eight things I absolutely had to accomplish to be a good worker, wife, and mom, there was now only one task for me to accomplish and seven that someone else could do. For the queen of domesticity with a bad case of HCD [Home Control Disease], this change in thinking was revolutionary! “((95-96).
Also Dufu uses her own experience to model how to “Delegate with Joy” – to speak not just to the ears but to the heart – and more.
Especially for those of you exhausted from all you are expected to do, please look at your to-do lists with new eyes. Are the things you have on that list for tomorrow, for example, really critical in accomplishing what matters most to you? Drop those extra balls!
Images of balls from – https://www.123rf.com/stock-photo/drop_the_ball.html
P.S. Dr p the Ball is listed in the Business Insider article “Eight Books to Read Before You Get Married” http://www.businessinsider.com/books-to-read-before-marriage-2017-4/#happier-at-home-by-gretchen-rubin-1 Check out the other recommendations too.
And I would add to that list The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate – by Gary Chapman.
Even if you are married, it’s not too late to learn good strategies for living and loving. Good luck.
“Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely–make that miraculously–fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result – eventually, astoundingly, and all to briefly–in you” (3-4).
You are a miracle.
– from A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
How have you been doing with your 2017 New Year’s resolutions? Like me, your intentions may have been easy to make — but not that easy to fulfill. One of my resolutions was to take swimming lessons. Although I can swim, I’m not really competent nor confident in the water. It’s taken me until this month to enroll in a class. I’ve gone to the three lessons. There are five more classes, and I should be practicing during the week, which I’ve done once. Why is something that I know would be good — and many people especially here in Hawaii love to do – so hard for me to accomplish?
In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor says that “whether it’s a strict diet, a New Year’s resolution, or an attempt at daily guitar practice, the reason so many of us have trouble sustaining change is because we try to rely on willpower. We think we can go from 0 to 60 in an instant, changing or overturning ingrained life habits through the sheer force of will. Tal [the author’s mentor] thought telling himself he was on a diet would be enough to keep him away from his mother’s chocolate cake. [But after struggling and resisting for hours, he got up in the middle of the night and ate the entire remaining cake!]. I thought telling myself to follow some spreadsheet would discipline me enough to practice the guitar. Well, that worked . . . for four days. Then I went back to regularly scheduled programing.
WILLPOWER GETS A WORKOUT
The reason willpower is so ineffective at sustaining change is that the more we use it, the more worn-out it gets” (152). . . .
“Unfortunately, we face a steady stream of tasks that deplete our willpower every single day. Whether it’s avoiding the desert table at the company lunch, staying focused on a computer spreadsheet for hours on end, or sitting still through a three-hour meeting, our willpower is consistently being put to the test. So it’s no wonder, really, that we so easily give in to our old habits, to the easiest and most comfortable path, as we progress through the day. This invisible pull toward the path of least resistance can dictate more of our lives than we realize, creating an impassible barrier to change and positive growth.
THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE
As Cathy sits tethered to her desk on Tuesday, she daydreams about the upcoming Saturday and all its possibilities. She wants to go biking on the trail by her house, join in a pickup soccer game at the local park, and see that Matisse exhibit at the museum.. She might even dive into that pile of books she has been wanting to read. Like all of us, Cathy has a number of hobbies and activities that engage her interests and strengths, energize her days, and make her happy. And yet, when her free Saturday actually does roll around, where does she end up? Conspicuously not on her bike or at the soccer field, and certainly not at that art exhibit everybody was raving about–it’s 20 minutes away! Her remote control, on the other hand, is within very easy reach, and Bravo happens to be airing a Top Chef marathon. Four hours later, Cathy has sunk deeper and deeper into the couch, unable to shake a listless sense of disappointment. She had better plans for the afternoon, and she wonders what happened to them.
What happened to Cathy was something that happens to all of us at one time or another. Inactivity is simply the easiest option. Unfortunately, we don’t enjoy it nearly as much as we think we do. In general, Americans actually find free time more difficult to enjoy than work. If that sounds ridiculous, consider this: For the most part, our jobs require us to use our skills, engage our minds, and pursue our goals–all things that have been shown to contribute to happiness. Of course, leisure activities can do this too, but because they’re not required of us–because there is no “leisure boss” leaning over our shoulder on Sunday mornings telling us we’d better be at the art museum by 9 A.M. sharp–we often find it difficult to muster the energy necessary to kick-start them. So we follow the path of least resistance, and that path inevitably leads us to the couch and the television. And because we are ‘mere bundles of habit,’ the more often we succumb to this path, the more difficult it becomes to change directions.
Unfortunately, though these times of ‘passive leisure,’ like watching TV and trolling around on Facebook, might be easier and more convenient than biking or looking at art or playing soccer, they don’t offer the same rewards. Studies show that these activities are enjoyable and engaging for only about 30 minutes, [my emphasis] then they start sapping our energy, creating what psychologists call ‘psychic entropy’– that listless, apathetic feeling Cathy experience.
On the other hand, ‘active leisure’ like hobbies, games, and sports enhance our concentration, engagement, motivation, and sense of enjoyment. Studies have found that American teenagers are two and half times more likely to experience elevated enjoyment when engaged in a hobby than when watching TV, and three times more likely when playing a sport. And yet here’s the paradox: These same teenagers spend four times as many hours watching TV as they do engaging in sports or hobbies. So what gives? Or, as psychologist [and writer of Flow, The Dynamics of Flow, & Creativity] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi put it more eloquently, “Why would we spend four times more time doing something that has less than half the chance of making us feel good?”
The answer is that we are drawn–powerfully, magnetically–to those things that are easy, convenient, and habitual, and it is incredibly difficult to overcome this inertia [my emphasis]. Active leisure is more enjoyable, but it almost always requires more initial effort–getting the bike out of the garage, driving to the museum, tuning the guitar, and so on. Csikszentmihalyi calls this ‘activation energy.’ In physics, activation energy is the initial spark needed to catalyze a reaction. The same energy, both physical and mental, is needed of people to overcome inertia and kick-start a positive habit. Otherwise, human nature takes us down the path of least resistance time and time again” (152-156). . . .
“In the workplace, the path of least resistance is especially maladaptive, luring us into a whole host of bad habits that breed procrastination and undercut productivity. , , , Regardless of our job description, we never seem to have enough time to get everything done. Eight-hour workdays turn into 12- and 14-hur ones, and still we feel behind. How can this be? Why do we have so much trouble being productive? . . .The American Management Association reports that employees spend an average of 107 minutes on e-mail a day. , , . And I suspect that if most office workers tallied up all the minutes they spent each day on blogs, social networking sites, Amazon.com, and so forth, it would paint a very alarming picture indeed. . . .
And that’s not even the worst of it. The actual time we give to these distractions is part of the problem, but the larger issue is that our attention hits a wall each time we stray. Research shows that the average employee gets interrupted from their work every 11 minutes, and on each occasion experiences a loss of concentration and flow that takes almost as many minutes to recover from. Yet in today’s world, it’s just too easy for us to be tempted. As a New York Times article put it, “distracting oneself used to consist of sharpening a half-dozen pencils or lighting a cigarette. Today, there is a universe of diversions to buy, hear, watch and forward, which makes focusing on a task all the more challenging. . . . It’s not the sheer number and volume of distractions that gets us into trouble; it’s the ease of access to them. . . . In short, distraction, always just one click away, has become the path of least resistance. . . .
[However, you can] lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt [put the guitar on the chair where you usually sit], and raise it for habits you want to avoid [freeze your credit cards in a block of ice if you are trying to stop impulse buying]. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change” (157-161). . . .
For instance, “in our quest for healthier eating habits, researchers have found that they can cut cafeteria ice cream consumption in half by simply closing the lid of an ice cream cooler. And that when people are required to wait in another, separate line to purchase chips and candy, far fewer will do so. In essence, the more effort it takes us to obtain unhealthy food, the less we’ll eat of it, and vice versa. This is why nutritionists recommend that we prepare healthy snacks in advance so that we can simply pull them out of the refrigerator, and why they recommend that when we do eat junk foods, we take out a small portion, then put the rest of the bag away, well out of our reach (163). . . .
For the author Shawn Achor’s example of Ted, the guy who is working almost all the time, and yet is not getting much done, there are specific actions that will help him establish better work habits.
SAVE TIME BY ADDING TIME
“The first step is a seemingly counterintuitive one–disable many of the shortcuts that were originally designed to ‘save time’ at the office. For example, I encouraged Ted to keep his e-mail program closed while he worked, so it would no longer send jarring alerts whenever he received new mail. Any time he wanted to check e-mail, he’d have to actively open the program and wait for it to load. While this reduced involuntary interruptions, it was still too easy for him to click on the little Outlook icon whenever his mind wandered, so to protect against habitual checking, we made it even more difficult. We disabled the automatic login and password for the account, took the shortcut off the computer desktop, then hid the application icon in an empty folder, buried in another empty folder, buried in another empty folder. Essentially, we created the electronic version of Russian stacking dolls. As he told me one day at the office, only half jokingly, it was now “a total pain in the ass’ to check e-mail.
‘Now we’re getting somewhere,’ I replied.
We did the same for his other distractions, disabling his stock widget, changing his home page from CNN to a blank search page, and even turning off his computer’s ability to process cookies so it couldn’t ‘remember’ the stocks and websites he usually checked. Every additional button he was required to click, even every additional address he was required to type into a web browser, raised the barrier to procrastination and improved his chances of remaining on task. I pointed out that he still had complete freedom to do what he wanted; just like in an opt-out program, his choice had not been taken away at all. The only thing that had changed was the default, which was not set to productivity, instead of to distraction. . . .
Ted was not only skeptical, but a little annoyed with me. It seemed to him (and to the other executives on whom I had inflicted similar miseries) that I was only making their busy lives more difficult. . . . But a few days later, once they realized how much more work they were getting done (and in less time), they had come around.
SLEEP IN YOUR GYM CLOTHES
. . . Limiting the choices we have to make can also help lower the barrier to positive change. . . studies showed that with every additional choice people are asked to make, their physical stamina, ability to perform numerical calculations, persistence in the face of failure, and overall focus drop dramatically. And these don’t have to be difficult decisions either–the questions are more ‘chocolate or vanilla?’ than they are Sophie’s Choice. . . .
If you’ve ever tried to start up the habit of early-morning exercise, you have probably encountered how easy it is to get derailed by too much choice. Each morning after the alarm clock sounds, the inner monologue goes something like this: Should I hit the snooze button or get up immediately? What should I wear to work out this morning? Should I go for a run or go to the gym? Should I go to the nearby gym that/s more crowded or the quieter gym that is slightly farther away? What kind of cardio should I do when I get there? Should I lift weights? Should I go to kickboxing class or maybe yoga? And by that point you’re so exhausted by all the options, you’ve fallen back asleep. At least that’s what would happen to me. So I decided to decrease the number of choices I would have to make in order to get myself to the gym.
Each night before I went to sleep, I wrote out a plan for where I would exercise in the morning and what parts of my body I would focus on. Then, I put my sneakers right by my bed. Finally–and most important–I just went to sleep in my gym clothes. (And my mom wonders why I’m not married yet.)
But the clothes were clean, and I had essentially decreased the activation energy enough so that when I woke up the next morning, all I had to do was roll off my bed, put my feet (which already had socks on them) into my shoes, and I was out the door. The decisions that seemed too daunting in my groggy morning state had been decided for me, ahead of time. And it worked. Eliminating the choices and reducing the activation energy made getting up and going to the gym the default mode. As a result, once I ingrained a lifetime positive habit of morning exercise, I now don’t have to sleep in my gym clothes anymore. . . .
This isn’t just about getting yourself to exercise. Think of the positive changes you want to make at your job [or at home or with personal growth], and figure out what it would mean to ‘just get your shoes on’ at work. The less energy it takes to kick-start a positive habit, the more likely that habit will stick.
SET RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Whether you’re trying to change your habits at work or at home, the key to reducing choice is setting and following a few simple rules . . . like deciding ahead of time when, where, and how I was going to work out in the morning. . . . [S]etting rules in advance can free us frm the constant barrage of willpower-depleting choices that make a real difference in our lives. If we make a rule to never drive a car when we’ve had more than one drink, for example, we eliminate the stress and uncertainty of trying to make a judgment call every time we aren’t sure if we’re too drunk to drive (which probably means we are). At work, setting rules to reduce the volume of choice can be incredibly effective. For example, if we set rules to only check our e-mail once per hour, or to only have one coffee break per morning, we are less likely to succumb in the moment, which helps these rules to become habits we stick to by default. . . .
The key to . . . permanent, positive change — is to create habits that automatically pay dividends, without continued concerted effort or extensive reserves of willpower. The key to creating these habits is ritual, repeated practice, until the actions become ingrained in your brain’s neural chemistry. And the key to daily practice is to put your desired actions as close to the path of least resistance as humanly possible. Identify the activation energy–the time, the choices, the mental and physical effort they require–and then reduce it. If you can cut the activation energy for those habits that lead to success, even by as little as 20 seconds at a time, it won’t be long before you start reaping their benefits. The first step metaphorically–and sometimes literally–is just to get your shoes on” (163-170).
Or for me, just jump in the water – and swim. I will go to my five remaining swimming classes. In October and much of November, I will have easy access to a pool, so I’ll continue practicing there. My goal is to swim for an hour without stopping. Surely, I can do that (and not hate it) before the end of December — when I’ll write another New Year’s resolution list.
Image from – http://www.freeimages.com/search/woman-swimming
The book has other good advice including a section on the importance of relationships. I encourage you to read The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. If you can’t get that done by the end of the year, you could add it to your 2018 New Year’s resolutions.
What about you? It’s not too late to revisit your 2017 New Year’s resolution list. Perhaps you’ve been relying on your willpower to accomplish your goals. It’s probably not enough. As Shawn Achor suggests – Figure out how can you put your desired actions as close to the path of least resistance as humanly possible.
Besides working on my swimming, I’m putting my vitamins on the counter each morning right by the sink; the bottles must be back in the cabinet before the end of the day. Learning to play a ukulele is also a goal, so like Shawn Achor, I’ve been leaving the instrument on my chair.
The year isn’t over. You can still accomplish what you resolved to do. Good luck.
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor <https://www.amazon.com/Happiness-Advantage-Principles-Success-Performance/dp/0753539470/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1503851065&sr=8-1&keywords=the+happiness+advantage+by+shawn+anchor
P.S. I recommend this book for other good insights. Although the focus is for success and performance at work, you can apply the principles in all aspects of your life. “Principle #7 SOCIAL INVESTMENT – Why Social Support is Your Single Greatest Asset” is particularly useful.
On T.V. news, we’ve been seeing marchers spouting hate in the U.S. It’s beyond shocking. But finding scapegoats is nothing new.
One of the world’s greatest writers, Leo Tolstoy, (1828-1910) known for his fiction, including War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, also wrote insightful and wise non-fiction.
An example of such wisdom are two of my favorite quotations from Tolstoy:
“The error at the root of all the political doctrines (the most Conservative, as well as the most advance) which has brought men [and women] to their present wretched condition, is always one and the same. It is that people considered, and still consider, it possible so to unite men [and women] by force that they should all unresistingly submit to one and the same scheme of life, and to the guidance for conduct flowing therefrom.
It is intelligible that men, yielding to passion, may by force oblige others who do not agree with them, to do what they wish. One can by force push a man out here and drag him in there, where he does not wish to go. (Both animals and men, under the influence of passion, always behave in this way.) And this is comprehensible. But what is not as all comprehensible, is the argument that violence can be a means of inducing people to behave as we want them to behave.
All violence consists in men [and women], by the threat of inflicting suffering or death coercing others to do what the coerced ones do not wish to do. And therefore the victims do what they dislike doing, only so long as they are weaker than their oppressors, and cannot avoid the evil which threatens them if they do not fulfill what is demanded of them. As soon as they become stronger, they naturally not only leave off doing what they did not wish to do, but, irritated by the struggle with their oppressors and by all they have suffered at their hands, they, after freeing themselves from their oppressors, in their turn force those they disagree with, to do what they (the stronger) consider good and necessary for themselves. So it seems clear that the struggle between oppressors and oppressed cannot possibly unite people, but on the contrary can only divide them the more the longer it lasts (16) . . .
The teaching of Christ in its true meaning consists in the acceptance of love as the supreme law of life, and therefore does not admit any exceptions.
Christianity (that is, the doctrine of the law of love) that permits occasional violence in obedience to other laws, is a contradiction in nature similar to cold fire or hot ice.
It seems evident that, if some men, for the sake of certain desirable results in the future, though they acknowledge the beneficence of love, may allow the necessity of tormenting or killing certain people, then, by just the same right, others, also acknowledging the beneficence of love, may allow the necessity (also for the sake of some future good) of tormenting and killing other people. So that it seems evident that the admission of any kind of exception to the command to fulfill the law of love, destroys the whole meaning, the whole significance, the whole beneficence of that law, which lies at the root of every religious teaching and of all moral teaching. This appears so evident that one is ashamed to argue it; but yet people of the Christian world, professed believers, as well as men calling themselves non-believers but yet acknowledging a moral law — regard the teaching of love, which rejects all violence (and especially the doctrine of not repaying evil by evil, which flows from that teaching) as something fantastical, impossible, and quite inapplicable to life.
It is understandable that those in power may say that without violence there can be no order or good life, meaning by the word “order’, a system under which the few can enjoy to excess the fruits of the labour of others, and meaning by the words ‘good life’, the non-interference with such a life. However unjust what they say may be, it is comprehensible that they should talk like that, for the abolition of violence would not only deprive them of the possibility of living as they do, but would expose the whole long-standing injustice and cruelty of their life.
But at any rate one would think the working people do not need the violence they (strange to say) so carefully inflict on themselves, and from which they suffer so much. For the violence the rulers do to the subjected is not the direct, personal violence of strong men to weak men, or of the many to the few: of, say, a hundred towards a score, etc. The violence of the rulers is upheld, as the violence of a minority towards the majority can only be upheld, by the fraud long ago devised by shrewd and cunning men, which causes people, for the sake of a small present and evident gain, to deprive themselves not only of the greatest advantages, but even to sacrifice their freedom and undergo most cruel sufferings (29-30) . . .
[N]ot only during the first three centuries of Christianity, during the time of persecution, but at first even after the triumph of Christianity over paganism, when Christianity was recognized as the dominant, State religion, the conviction still maintained itself among Christians that war is incompatible with Christianity. Ferrucius expressed this definitely and decidedly, and was executed for so doing: ‘Christians are not allowed to shed blood, even in a just war and at the command of Christian Emperors.’ In the fourth century Lucifer, Bishop of Caliris, preached that even the blessing most precious to a Christian — his faith — must be defended, ‘not by killing others, but by one’s own death’.
Thus it was during the four first centuries of Christianity. Under Constantine, however, the cross already appeared on the standards of the Roman legions. . . .
From that time, during nearly fifteen centuries, the simple, indubitable and evident truth, that the profession of Christianity is incompatible with readiness to commit every kind of violence and even to kill at the will of other people, was hidden from men to such a degree — and to such a degree was real Christian feeling weakened–that from generation to generation, men, nominally professing Christianity, lived and died sanctioning murder, participating in it, committing it, and profiting by it”(41-42). . . .
The State law, in its demand of military service: that is, of readiness to slay at the will of others, cannot but be contrary to all religious-moral law, which is always founded on love to one’s neighbour, like all religious teachings, not only Christian, but also Mohammedan, Buddhist, Brahminist, and Confucian (45-46). . . .
Fifteen years before his The Law of Violence and The Law of Love, Tolstoy wrote, “A terrible weight of evil is hanging over the people of the earth, and presses upon them. Those standing under this weight, and more and more crushed by it, seek ways to rid themselves of it.
“They know that with their united strength they could lift the weight and throw it off, but they cannot agree to undertake it all together, and each one stoops lower and lower, to let the weight rest on the shoulders of the others. So the weight presses down more and more, and would have long since crushed them, were it not for those who are guided in their actions not by considerations of the external results of their actions, but only by an inner accord between their conduct and the voice of conscience. Such men [and women] have existed and still exist — Christians– for, in place of an eternal aim (for the attainment of which the consent of everybody is required), to set oneself an inward purpose (to attain which no one’s consent is needed) is the essence of true Christianity. And therefore deliverance from the slavery in which people are living, impossible for ordinary people, has come, and is coming only through Christianity — only by exchanging the law of violence for the law of love. ”
To a Christian who has recognized the demands of the law of love, all the demands of the law of violence not only cease to be binding, but present themselves as human errors which must be exposed and abolished (50-52) . . .
. . . we cannot help knowing and seeing that the people of the Christian world can no longer seriously play at conquests, at meetings between monarchs, at diplomatic cunning, at Constitutions, with their House of Parliament and Dumas, at being Socialist-Revolutionaries, at democratic or anarchist parties and at Revolutions; and above all, cannot do all these things basing them on violence (60). . . .
Human life as a whole moves, and cannot help moving, toward the eternal ideal of perfection, only by each separate individual advancing towards his own personal and equally unlimited perfection.
What a dreadful, pernicious superstition is that under the influence of which men — neglecting the inward work upon themselves, which is the only thing really needed for their own and society’s welfare, and also the one thing in which man was full power — direct all their strength towards arranging the life of others, which is beyond their power, and, for the attainment of this impossible aim, employ violent means, certainly evil and injurious to themselves and to others, and more surely than anything else removing them both from their personal and from the general perfection!” (65).
It’s love that will make the changes. And it comes from within each of us.