Go see a Lake. Come to Chilika in Odisha, India. It is the largest brackish water lake in entire Asia. And you see this:
Now go see a lake where you can even see the bottom. A still, calm and clean one. Like this at the Dawki border of India and Bangladesh.
What do you notice? Wind blows and waves rises in lakes. You throw stones, water splashes creating ripples. Birds swim in lake, drink its water and catch pray. All this makes it in constant motion.
In the midst of all this motion, you can’t see its bottom. You don’t know what lies deep inside it. Only after you calm the waves, makes it still, you can glance the bottom.
What happens to all dust ever settling on the lake? It keeps settling down the lake. Becomes the invisible inseparable part of lake. Whenever a big wave arises, those settled dust particles can still surface to the top.
Our mind, our consciousness also works similar to the lakes. Imagine your consciousness as a plain calm lake. But our sense organs are busy catching impressions.
Your eyes see. Your ears hear the sound. You taste. Your skin feels sensation of a touch. You smell perfumes with nose.
When this stimulus falls over your calm lake of brain, thought waves arises. Each stimulus is like a fresh seed sown on a fertile land. It is bound to leave an impression behind.
These impressions or Sanskar keep settling down in the lake of your brain. They become part of your memory. They go settle in your subconscious.
They will keep settled and you won’t even be aware about them. But the moment some related stimulus comes, they will rise from bottom of the lake to the top I.e. from subconscious to conscious. That’s why you start humming an old song the moment you hear the tone. You didn’t even know that you still remember that song.
The similar impressions combine and become a habit. Similar habits combine and form your character. That character governs your overall conduct everyday without you giving much thought to it.
So, it it like writing a code bit by bit every single day. And you have your entire programme ready to run your life.
When I read this analogy in the book RajaYoga by Swami Vivekananda, I was struck by the sense of empowerment this thought carries.
It means that whatever things we do everyday without much conscious thought are the result of whatever impressions we have been putting over time.
And so, if we want, we can have newer impressions and newer habits and completely new character. Vivekananda puts it beautifully that only solution to bad habits is counter habits.
But the thing is, since the old impressions never goes away, it is like living a programmed life out of old habits.
Much of it may be useful like brushing your teeth every day or drinking water or sleeping at decided time; but the problem comes when those codes or programmes or habits written by you overtime are not serving you. When you want to rewrite the codes and want to have different impressions but your past impressions and codes come in the way of change and let you be a slave to your past programming.
Let’s understand it from the analogy of highways.
So, imagine your brain like a vast plain desert of grey sand. Whenever you put an impression, the thought arises. For that thought to travel you need a road with a particular direction. So, the moment you have a new impression for the first time, a rough road would be created by the electric impulses in your brain.
When you give the same impression over and over again; you take that rough road again and again and again. And as you take that road often it becomes a pacca road. It becomes a habit. So it becomes as great as a metallic highway.
So, now your brain knows. Whenever there are even the remote circumstances ripened for that particular impression, your brain would immediately jump over to that metallic highway and you are ready to drive at a high speed of 100 miles an hour.
This mechanism of coding works really well for us. Taking pacca roads i.e. paths of least resistance conserves energy, gives us skill or excellence or the flow at a job at hand.
Now the issue is with those roads which you know would meet an accident or simply those are useless roads and you want to dismantle them giving right of way for new roads.
But the moment you try doing that, you face inertia. You feel that you need to put too much efforts. It is like you need to force your brain to travel a bumpy countryside road leaving the well established metallic highway by its side. So, definitely it is tremendous effort and a work of willpower.
But in those moments in which you start getting success in dismantling old roads, you truly start realising the meaning of wise words of Bhagavadgeeta.
It says that you are neither your body and nor your mind. You are an energy distinct from all this. And it is this energy which created those earlier highways and so it can very well establish newer highways destroying older ones.
Only when you have this realisation, you can progress from living a coded life to a complete life of freedom and love.
But this is the psychology, science and philosophy. Let’s get down to the everyday business in life.
I made it a mission of my life that I will go and interact with school kids wherever I can. So, I had some cool conversation with students at Dehradun, at Guwahati, at Hyderabad and at Mussoorie. They were facing similar psychological issues.
“I want to study and focus but I end up picking up my ‘smartphone’ and scroll through Instagram. It is a compulsive feeling and I want this to end. But I can’t.”
Being a conversation enthusiast, I talked a lot to my peers, friends and leaders across organisations which I come in contact with earlier in Railways and now in policing and law enforcement. The issues we were and are facing are similar.
I want to eat healthy and burn fat but I end up ordering McDonalds and Dominos at night and taking sugar cookies.
I want to hit the road and workout but I end up putting off the alarm and slip in my habit of pulling my blanket in cozy AC room and sleep.
I want to read after work but I end up binge watching on Netflix.
I want to sleep peacefully but I end up checking notifications on mobile lying on my bedside or may be just watching porn and masturbating.
I want to get my mind out of a dead toxic relationship but I can’t stop playing the song over again which reminds me all of that making me miss that lost love even more.
These are just a bit of the similar issues we face. I call them ‘The coding problems’. You are just playing out a ‘Coded Life’ which you wrote bit by bit by your past impressions.
So, it means we can rewrite the code by starting to have the newer impressions. Remember that the solution to bad habits is counter habits.
How to we do that is the next question. Here is what I tried to move from the coded life to a complete life after the realisation that I am the only coder of my life and so I can rewrite the code.
Here are some strategies to rewrite the code at your own will:
PLACE THE ORDER
Just ask the universe whatever you want. Just write it down. Give it words. Name it. Imagine it. Live the emotions associated with it on paper. And see magic happening. Your dream would come to life. This is the clue I took from the books, “The Secret” and “The power of subconscious mind”.
I implemented it thoroughly at my Indian Police Service (IPS) training. I will tell you a story. As my IPS training began, I was a big ZERO in push-ups and chin-ups. Even after six weeks of gruelling physical training, I could do Zero Push-ups in correct form and was Zero in chin-ups. I wrote my dream on paper. I wrote almost everyday to do Gym, eat Zero white sugar and oil to burn fat. This is what I wrote:
And then the magic happened:
I felt confident that I could reduce 14kgs in 20 weeks and could do 07 chin-ups ultimately. I implemented this for all the skills I was learning new be it horse riding, unarmed combat, shooting, swimming and yah magic happened. I of course didn’t be the best but definitely the better version of myself.
So, treat this universe like a big Swiggy platform. Just place the order. Have faith. You will get it.
This happens because your brain starts to manufacture new networked roads for this new thought wave you have created. And since you write it daily, you travel that road daily and it becomes a pacca road.
BARRICADE THE ROAD, DIG POTHOLES
If you want to destroy the metallic smooth road of a bad habit, just start placing hurdles on the road. Just make it difficult to travel that road.
This I did to put an end to my smartphone addiction. Just make sure that you get lesser and lesser stimulus or impressions of that particular thought so that that programme doesn’t play out through your subconscious.
I have described these strategies in my earlier article on this website, “The Smart Prison”. I decided to use Alarm clock and putting my phone in Almirahs at night. Because I know that if it is lying next to my bed, I will pick it up at night. I purchased a feature phone and kept my smartphone switched off when deep work was on. I protected myself from unnecessary stimulus by keeping all notifications off.
So, keep building hurdles on earlier road. At the same time keep construction work in full swing on the new road. Slowly, it becomes a road travelled lesser and lesser. And when your new road is ready, you switch on.
You cannot change the story happened to you. But you can definitely change the Meaning you assign to that story. You are the coder, remember. You solely decide what narrative to create out of a given incident.
For that matter, I cannot change the fact that I have been a victim of child sexual abuse. It caused immense pain and suffering for years. Whenever that thought wave used to come to the surface of conscious, I used to feel sad and painful.
But then I chose to change the narrative. I now take this as a meaningful experience which makes me even more empathetic for this cause specially in my work of law enforcement in policing which demands immense sensitivity. It gives me one more purpose to stay at my work and deliver justice.
I suggested this to a very dear friend of mine and her experience of childhood stories remarkably changed.
The narrative of our bad experience often gets automatically rewritten when we see things in hindsight. But why wait when you are just one decision away from a completely new life.
RECLAIM THE LAND
How you will build a new road when you have no land? Here comes the meditation. It helps you clearing your headspace and reclaim that land.
So it is like your brain is like a muddy lake. It is full of thoughts. If you churn it more, water is gonna be even more muddy. So let the lake settle, let the dust settle down and then it is ready for a fresh wave. It will let you see your true nature. Your true calling. What you really want.
This is something I have not been consistent at doing. But after talking to my friends who do meditation regularly, I realised that they have definitely more space then I do. It is only when you empty yourself, you create space for a new life. Quiet time helps.
10 push-ups! Fast! Go take round of stadium! This is what my instructor tells me yelling when I forget to stand up at the call of bugle. Same happens when I’m laughing in style March. Left Right left… Uniformed personnel would understand me. : )
Sometimes he would ask for just 2 push-ups. So, penalty is not so severe. But it has a reminder value. A reinforcement value. And now when the bugle calls, we all jump in attention just stopping everything we are doing. New road is formed. I’m ready to ride.
Similar stuff I read in the book, the monk who sold his Ferrari. Robin had talked about monks taking dip in cold water every time their mind deviates from a chosen path.
So, basically these penalty Reminders increases the toll tax to travel on the old highway. They make you switch to the new kachcha road.
Last year I had just 6 months to prepare for the IPS. I decided to delete WhatsApp from my phone. Because I knew that I’ll go there again and again, just scroll, go in past memories and come back.
So I deleted WhatsApp. But you know. I’ll pull my phone from the Almirah, download it again and kill 15 minutes.
But since I’ve written my goal, my brain would immediately signal that you were supposed to build a new road but you have taken old highway.
I then deleted it again.
But then again, I downloaded it.
Again I deleted.
A hundred times…
But then my gestation period increased. From temptation coming every hour, it became a day, a week, a month and finally gone. I won!
Key is to keep repeating new thing despite you seem to be failing.
When there is resistance, temptation of attachment, then remember that it is your old impressions playing out efficiently. But since you are the coder, you will inevitably rewrite the code. Tell this to your brain and it will give up for your will.
I like when Nelson Mandela said that greatest living lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.
So if you have failed a thousand times, just rise up once more. Take clue from a child. It falls thousands of times but eventually it learns to walk on its feet. Child doesn’t give up. There is no ego or shame to child when it falls. It is us adults who grip ourselves in fear due to our egos.
Keep doing. Even imperfectly.
So dear friends! Never let your coded life run you like a slave. Reclaim your agency. So, as a dear friend of mine puts it, “Don’t erase yourself.”
Though I’ve learnt this technique of habit formation and destruction, I’m still not able to completely do away with some bad habits of mine. Their past roads are very smooth and very well maintained. But I’m confident that they too will be broken with my new impressions.
I remember words of Vivekananda that we shall crush stars into atoms and unhinge the universe…
So always remember. You want a new habit, just start having new impressions. You want fitness? Just be in gym everyday for 10 minutes. That should be your goal.
This is the message also from the book, “The Atomic Habits” written by James Clear.
We see in ocean a wave. But actually, it is amalgamation of millions of tiny waves which combine and you see them in the shape of a wave force.
Similarly when you take little steps, they are just tiny impressions. Just tiny codes. But when you have enough of them, they become a habit, a full programme. And your life then moves on auto pilot mode.
So no problem. Live a coded life but remember you are the coder and you can alone rewrite that code. Never undermine your strength.
WHAT DO YOU WANT REALLY
To change anything, you first need to know what do you want. What needs to be changed. This needs clarity. A clear goal hierarchy. Clarity of life philosophy. This will come in silence. In meditation or in incessant work of self awareness.
But when you truly know that you need to change, living even one more moment in old ways is like living life of a slave. Slave of your earlier coded life.
As a spider creates a web of silk, your world is your own mental construct. Spider forgets this unless someone breaks its web. But we humans must remember this. So, we can break our silk web whenever we want and weave a new one.
Bit by Bit
Code by Code
Keep Leading to Love