TED Talk - Mindfulness (March 2016)Nikita Voloboev
I want to start off this talk by asking you all a question.
How many choices do think you have made over the course of this day?
Perhaps you thought what to have today for breakfast, or you thought about what clothes you should wear on this particular evening.
The truth is that we make a lot of choices every day. Some of them decide how the remainder of the day will be spent, some can make a valuable decision on which path in life you will go on to embark, some can serve no purpose and value what so ever and others can even harm you or perhaps guide you in the wrong direction. Despite all of this, there is one thing that all decisions inherently share. They take something that we all have a limited supply of.
That something is energy. How many of you in this room have heard about the concept of decision fatigue?
To the people who have not, and it appears to be the majority of the group here, decision fatigue is a well observed psychological phenomenon where any decision that we make, a decision being a yes or no requiring answer, essentially drains our pre supplied daily surplus of energy. So you might ask, how does it affect me? How does it appear in my day to day life?
Well the effects of decision fatigue have been closely observed and they are being used against us every day. It has been said that decision fatigue can even act a ’trap’ for financially poor people. Have you ever wondered why candy bars and most other junk food is located near the cashier registers? It’s an interesting question.
It is for the exact reason of decision fatigue. If you are low on money, or you are on a diet, going to the supermarket can be a very exhausting trip for you. Think about it. I think we’ve all been there. You go to the supermarket and you don’t know what you want.
You go around looking for options. ‘Can I eat that?’ ‘Can I afford it?’
or perhaps you look at a brand of pasta and you think to yourself, ‘oh, I’ve eating the same pasta for the past two weeks now, I want something different’ So you go on and repeat the cycle.
So what can we do? Well in this case with the supermarket, we can solve it, by making a list. Make a list of foods you want to buy before going to the supermarket. And in the supermarket, you just follow this list. Quite simple.
But that is just one specific case though. Is there a solution that we can apply for everything, and use for everything?
Through my research and my own personal experience, I found there to be two effective solutions which can be used to effectively solve this problem more generally.
Two things. Mindfulness and habits.
I’ll start with the mindfulness first. The reason for that, is that mindfulness also known as awareness of your thoughts and actions is really all you need to solve any kind of inner problem or conflict that we might have. The reason why mindfulness is so rarely practiced is because it is hard.
It is extremely difficult at first to try and live consciously. Follow every thought and action. A lot of people make a mistake of using mindfulness as a tool to try and control life. Try and tame these little racing thoughts and feelings of ours. The truth is, that any attempts to do that by us are futile. Mindfulness is not about control. It’s about awareness.
One more thing about mindfulness is that I think many confuse mindfulness with meditation. All mediation is, is focused mindfulness. Who in this room has perhaps tried meditating? It’s hard, right?
So what do we have so far. We know that decision fatigue is real and in many ways governs how we make our decisions, especially come the time of the evening. We know that mindfulness can be a solution to it because if you are aware of your decisions at any given time, you can consciously make what you think is the right one. But we also know that it is hard and trying to be mindful and overseeing also drains from our limited supply of energy. So, things are looking somewhat hopeless, it seems. So can we make this easier?
Well here is where habits come in.
We all have habits in our lives. Be that a good habit of brushing your teeth in the morning or making a plan for the following day, or perhaps one where we open up our phone to check our the newsfeed on Facebook, even if we have checked it a few minutes prior. We know its bad, we know that we can use that time to spend on other things, like reading a book, or working on a personal project that you always wanted to work on but ‘didn’t have the time’.
All a habit is, is a routine or behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously. Mind this word, unconsciously. That means that a habit eats no energy from our daily supply.
So how can we build these good and powerful habits? All habits follow a cyclical progression from cue to routine to reward. It starts of with a cue. A cue is something that triggers a habit, that can be brewing a hot cup of coffee in the morning. A routine then is something that follows a cue, for example after you brew your cup of coffee, you sit down on our desk to answer some emails or continue working on some project of yours. A reward then that comes after and it doesn’t necessarily need to be physical, like a snack for example. It can be psychological. I think we all can agree how good accomplishing something really is.
One of the habits that I am working on right now, is waking up in the mornings. Making something before the day even starts and when most other people wake up, feels incredible. So that is my reward.
What other habits are out there? Reading a book for 10 minutes every day, doing a 5 minute workout in the morning, make your plans in the evenings, write in your journal at the end of the day to look at what you learned and what memorable things have happened.
But above all, just start. Start small. As they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It is never too late to make that step.