Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Physiology of Change

The Physiology of Change

Why do we find it so hard to take on a new challenge or to change our old habits? We make resolutions on the eve of every new year; and then perhaps for a couple of days, we are all charged up to change our old ways. But after a week or so, we are back to our old habits and in a month's time, all our lofty resolutions are completely forgotten.

We all know that we have weaknesses that we can do without but we don't seem to have the strength to overcome them. Why?

First of all, we need to find enough motivation to do so: the so-called push and pull factors, I've discussed about this in a previous posting.

That takes care of the justification. Now, how do you get started? It is easy to pay lip service to all your commitments. Talk is cheap. Someone says, "I want to quit smoking". But do you see any fundamental change in the person's behaviour either physiologially or psychologically, that indicates the he or she will do so?

Compare that with this scenario: A boy has been admiring this pretty girl for some time but somehow he has never felt confident enough to ask her out for a date. Everytime she passes in front of him, his heart beats faster. But unfortunately, he is a nobody in her eyes. She has so many other male admirers. Who is he to ask her out? So he suffers in silence.

One day he decides that enough is enough, he has to end this ridiculous torment. He takes a deep breath, said a prayer and summoned every ounce of courage that he has in his body, walk up to her and with a voice that is barely his own, asked: "Would you go out with me for a movie this Friday night?"

As those words are being uttered, he realises that his knees are trembling furiously, his face is completely flushed, his heart seems to be bursting his chest and his thoughts are all spinning wildly inside his head. It was almost too much for him to bear, but he did it! He managed to say those words, and for the first time ever, she lifted those dazzling eyes of hers and gazed into his face...

Cut. Let's come back to our discussion. Our guy, the wallpaper, decides to do something about the miserable situation that he finds himself in and makes the massive decision to do something which he never had the courage to do before. And that momentuous decision is reflected by the physiology of his body--all that trembling, flushing and heart-pounding.

We can certainly tell that the act is one that requires monumental willpower on his part. It wasn't easy, but there was enough push (all that loneliness that was too agonizing to bear anymore) and pull (the prospect of winning the heart of a beautiful girl) factors. However what's key here is the enormous willpower that the guy managed to find inside himself to make that decisive move. Every fibre in his body was involved in the process. He could not have put in any less effort.

Now, do you see the difference between this guy and the guy who says: "Yeah, I want to quit smoking"?

Who do you believe? Do you see why one person has a better chance of success than the other?

The next time you make a decision to change, check your pulse-rate, heartbeart and blood pressure. If there are no significant changes at all, you'll know that your decision will not make any difference. Why should it? Your physiology already tells you so: you have no sincere desire to change. Period. You'll definitely pick up a cigarette again the moment you feel slightly stressed.

Don't kid yourself. Try again when you are really ready to make a decision to change. And check all your physiological signs. They never lie.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Air Within the Hollow of Bones

The Air Within the Hollow of Bones

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived...I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life...

- Walden, Henry David Thoreau
The lines above are much quoted ones from Thoreau but they express exactly how I feel--especially on a Sunday night like this, before the start of another week.

I often ask myself the question: have I done enough to "suck out all the marrow of life"? To me, living life to the fullest (which is what the phrase is taken to mean at the very superficial level) does not only mean enjoying every pleasure that there is in this world. That's hedonism.

Well, let me state it clear that there's nothing wrong with a hedonistic life. I have nothing against it. The pursuit of pleasure is a perfectly legitimate reason for living. But that's not good enough for me.

Worldly pleasures are like the flesh of the meat that you eat; you ignore the bones. The pleasures that I look for are in the marrow of the bones--you need to suck them out.

Doesn't that sound so gluttonously gross! Am I like those poor souls in the Hellraiser movies, always in search of the "ultimate pleasure" only to find that they only lead to the gates of hell?

"Sucking all the marrow of life" to me means doing everything possible within your means and ability to realize your true potential. Have you challenged yourself? Have you recoiled from doing something out of fear? Have you wasted time because you have been just plain lazy?

Realizing your true potential does not always equal to "success" in the conventional sense. Again that's not what I'm looking for. Worldly success is but the "flesh", certainly not the "marrow in the bones". You could feast on all the flesh there is out there and still miss the essence in the bones.

Now, what's so important about the marrow? The dictionary defines "marrow" (besides being the substance inside the bone or spinal cord) as the "the inmost, choicest or essential part" of something. Isn't that another form of "pleasure"?

Perhaps. But that's not the point. Allow me to quote another cliche: it's the journey, not the destination that matters.

In the final analysis, it is the act of sucking out the marrow that is important. Not the marrow. It is all the hardwork that goes into trying to extract out the essence of who you are and what it is that you are destined to do. That's what I mean by "sucking the marrow of life".

You might end up not tasting much of this elusive marrow. You reach the end of your life and you are still uncertain if you have really found all the answers that you have been looking for. The bones that you have been sucking could be disappointingly hollow.

But to me if you have really tried hard enough, then you have done an honest lifetime of work. There are lessons to be learnt even in the air within the hollow of bones. If you have done that dilligently, you would have, as Thoreau put it, "sucked out all the marrow of life".