The millisecond wars

If you could see what happens in your mind as it happens, you would soon realize that everything inside it starts small.

I asked myself one day: if everything truly starts small (as our trivial observation helps us conclude) can we build awesome habits by taking tiny steps? And can we stop bad habits by preventing just one small step?

Our approach to making and breaking habits generally relies on a Herculean strategy. To become fitter, we hit the gym with vengeance right from the first day; To become slimmer, we start crash course diets that force us to function on meager morsels for days and weeks; To stop smoking, we completely go off cigarettes. We start loftily, only to exhaust ourselves and give up, again and again and again.

Let’s face it, not everyone is Hercules.

The fight can be fought persistently on a much smaller scale.
Every time I am in a bad mood, I can clearly see the starting point of the negative spiral that led me to my current state. The precise millisecond when the first negative thought entered my mind and opened the doors for all its kin. If only I could have let that first thought go (“If only I could have stopped eating after I was almost full.”,”If only I could get the courage to utter the first few words.”). If only I could win that millisecond war, I could avert it all.

But to win that millisecond war, you need a special weapon in your arsenal: Observation (or Mindfulness, which basically is a sexy term for internal observations). I chanced upon the observation that my depression was caused by one dark thought opening the door for other dark ones. I observed that once I let those thoughts enter, fighting them all together, took a lot of time and energy. And sometimes, just sometimes, when I let that first dark thought float away like a passing cloud, the war was won and the day was saved.

Mindfulness experts who help chain smokers come out of their addiction don’t ask them to quit smoking. Instead, they are advised to observe what happens during the first drag, what does it taste like, what makes them go for one more and so on. In short, the addicts are asked to observe the entire exercise. The same technique can be used for many things. It could be persistent anger and observing what triggers it, it could be overeating and understanding why you do it, it could be social anxiety and observing when fear strikes and you fold in. Once you have observed what happens, you have understood your enemy and its weakness. From there on, formulating a strategy to win that millisecond war is just a left hand job (easy-peasy).

We all have the capacity to be the person we want to be. We just have to observe and win those millisecond wars, again and again and again.

PS. All the war jargon is just for kicks. I am a peace loving guy.