Archive for the ‘Habit-forming’ Category

Get the Ball Rolling: How Physics taught me to get things done

What is the hardest part of embarking on any new project? Usually it’s fear of the unknown. However, when this fear has been overcome, the next hardest thing is actually starting the project. Some people stay in the planning stage forever. Strangely enough, the key is to just begin the project and slowly gain momentum. But, what is momentum?

Momentum – A property of a moving body that determines the length of time required to bring it to rest when under the action of a constant force (Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary)

Momentum is a wonderful term in physics used to describe the relationship between the mass of a body and its speed. If a body is large, it will have a large momentum. If a body is moving quickly, it will also have a large momentum. Using the definition from the dictionary, momentum is related to the amount of time it takes to stop a body that is moving. Once momentum starts to increase, it becomes more and more difficult to stop.  In other words:

Large Body – – – > Large Momentum – – – > Long time to stop motion


Like most scientific principles, this law of momentum is connected to everyday life and human behavior:

Major Project – – – > Major Momentum – – -> Long time to Stop Working

Think about this: Ever been in a situation where you’re just setting up your books to study some material and then someone calls you? Is it more difficult to quit when you haven’t started or to ignore the phone? You might find yourself saying, “Let me finish this paragraph” or “Let me solve these problems and then I’ll call back.”  How about when you decided to start saving up for emergencies? How much easier was it to spend on a whim when the emergency fund was empty as opposed to when you’re a quarter of the way to the goal?

I have been dreading writing my proposal (mentioned in my Goal Report) since I realized I had to do one. This dread led me to continually postpone while I kept thinking about the perfect structure in the back of my mind. Well, I never got the perfect structure I wanted until I began typing. Once I started, my ideas started to take shape and I was able to rearrange and integrate my thoughts better within the structure of the proposal.  The same thing happened when it came to investing. I had been talking about investing since I started graduate school 5 years ago but I didn’t start until this year. I always just told myself I didn’t know enough. Last March, I decided to just plunge in and this forced me to begin to learn more. I initially sought advice from 2 uncles who had been involved in financial markets before and they provided tips on what to look for (one uncle actually thought I had started because I had talked about it so much). It wasn’t until I began investing that I learned the different kinds of mutual funds that were out there and then started looking for funds with low expense ratios.

What have I learned?  The way to overcome the lethargy of beginning a new project is to just start (Nike slogan comes to mind here), no matter how small the actions are. You want to save $1000, start by saving 2%-5% of your income today and slowly increase that. You want to improve your cardio rate: start by jogging for 5-10 minutes a day. You want to start investing:  there are mutual fund companies that begin at $25 and others at $50 per month for mutual fund accounts. It takes time to get the ball rolling, but as time passes with you chipping away, it becomes a lot harder to stop. Take a step today, it may be in the wrong direction but you won’t know unless you step.

Joe Wilson, Kanye West and the 1st Habit of Highly Effective People

I know what you might be thinking. Why am I bringing this up when the dead horse of Outbursts Anonymous (Joe Wilson’s “You Lie” and Kanye Wests “I’ll let you finish but . . . “)  has been beaten to many times this week? Well, their snap reactions made me think about something I learned a while ago.

In Stephen Covey’s book (7 habits of highly effective people), the first habit is described as be proactive (rather than reactive).

To illustrate, this is reactive

JWKW1st_1 copy

And this is proactive


Mr Covey explains that to move from dependence to independence, the choice  to be proactive is the first step i.e. realizing that we control our actions. Not our environment or our upbringing or our nature. It’s easy to say “That’s the way I am” or “They made me angry” but that does not explain the response. When there is no gap between stimulus and response (reaction), fireworks always result. The point is not that we shouldn’t react at all, but to produce a measured response that reflects thought.

I was reading an article recently where an older man was advising a younger man on marriage (The source of that article is a man talking about his first 100 days of marriage. His wife is also blogging. Very entertaining and eye-opening reads). What the older man does when he senses things getting testy between him and his wife is ask “How important is this to you?” Just 6 words. Yet, those words and the silent moment aftwerwards alone would greatly reduce the divorce rates and breakups that happen. Just taking a small moment to think and then respond always makes a huge difference.

Now this habit is not saying that there should be no response. I have seen and experienced the danger of bottling up emotions can do. It is important to respond, but just as relevant is the thought prior to response. The stimuli for the Mr Wilson and Mr West was a difference in opinion, what’s yours and how do you deal?

Brain image from Wikipedia.

The Flame

While on Twitter the other day and I came across a tweet that read “How Benjamin Franklin turned America into a land of with  invention” with the following link. If you follow the link, it takes you to a page showing most of Benjamin Franklin’s achievements from inventing the lightening rod, to owning a printing press, from being an author to being an ambassador. It appears that he covered every spectrum: science, media, literature and diplomacy. In this day and age when everyone is focused on one particular sphere of life, it’s refreshing to think that at one time there was a man who covered all these aspects. As human beings we are not one-dimensional. We have varied interests and hobbies and can work at being good and great at all these things. No doubt Benjamin Franklin was a talented man, but the question is was it all based on his talent alone?

His biography was the first I ever listened to and what I was most impressed about is how hard he worked at being better.  In his late 20s (my age :-)), he came up with a list of what he called the 13 virtues

Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

He would then pick a virtue and work on one each day and ask himself at the end of the day how well he had done in what he set out to do. History tells us that he often went astray, but it didn’t deter him from working on these virtues. In the audio book I heard, I learned that he latter abandoned the practice of working on a habit per day later on, but this happened after he had instilled the habit of actively working to make himself better.

What can we learn from Franklin’s behavior.

  1. 13 virtues: We should all ask ourselves what is most important to us and look at improving in all those areas. Personally, my life is divided into financial, intellectual, spiritual and social and I try to set goals in each based on what I want to get out of each area. Whether religious or not, there are certain principles that should guide any human being. These principles require attention.
  2. 13 definitions: Not only did Franklin list principles, he also wrote out what each meant to him which would lead to the actions to take. For instance being healthy might be an important virtue, but it’s so broad that if you don’t define what it means for you, it’ll be hard to focus your efforts. It could mean keeping a certain weight for some, or exercising 3 days a week for others. It’s when the personal meaning of these principles are defined that the activities which guide them become clearer.
  3. Daily Practice: It is often said that it takes 3 weeks to make something a habit. It’s not enough to just come up with principles and activities, but one has to consciously work at accomplishing them. We may not be able to do it like Franklin did, even he failed sometimes. I try every day to come up with a list of activities that match my personal goals and I don’t accomplish them all, however I try to make sure that I take a step towards that direction. Sometimes making a list appears to limit what you can do, just like people believe budgets don’t give you freedom. I believe these lists give freedom because you choose what you want to place on them and then they direct you towards what you really want.

One might look at Franklin’s life and think he led a very rigid life, but look at where it got him. From Philly to France (The French loved him so he couldn’t have been that rigid/boring) and almost everywhere in between. He started the torch that has guided a lot of innovative people over the years and his practices began where the spark (for me) left off.

For a look at history, here’s a page from Franklin’s journal (from the link I pointed out earlier)

Franklin Journal