Developing inner values is much like physical exercise. The more we train our abilities, the stronger they become. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
Wow, you’d think he’d been reading my posts or something. I could go the route of vanity and claim that great minds think alike. But somehow, I doubt he is copying me.
Actually, the idea of training of both the body and mind goes back ages and ages. Most societies of which I am familiar have games designed to sharpen the mind. Chess, Mahjong, Go, puzzles that you take apart and then try to put back together again. All become easier with practice.
Emotions (and the responses thereto), attitudes, and values also can be trained or habituated. Some people are perpetually (insert an emotional state). But is it truly perpetually, or is it more accurately described as habitually? I imagine they could change if they had a big enough reason to, and had access to methods that work. If you want to become kinder, practice kindness. Sounds simple enough.
Why are habits important?
Habits, to use another quote, start as cobwebs, but end as cables. This is saying that habits start as thin wispy strands, easily broken, but end up as massive ropes that cannot be broken. If you make a habit of getting up and having a cup of coffee and the morning paper, a ritual is born. Pretty soon, you couldn’t stop if you wanted to, right?
This also applies to beneficial habits. You could start each day with some gratitude, followed by some stretching and exercise, a little quiet time to gather your thoughts and plan your day, and have a healthy breakfast. It can be done in a half hour to an hour each morning. Is that better than coffee and reading the paper? Or am I showing my age again?
Where can I apply this in my life?
This is something I have written about many times. Choose something you want to change, and start noticing when you can try the new habit in lesser circumstances. If you want to start changing your eating habits, start by taking slightly smaller portions. Just one fewer green bean is a start, a cobweb.
The quote is specifically about inner values, so let’s talk about those. What inner values do you wish you had, or want to improve? A short list of my favorites include honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, service, perseverance, loyalty, sympathy, courage, and discipline. Grab some paper and write down two or three that you want to start on.
Take a moment and consider each value you have on your list. On a scale of 1 to 10, where are you presently, and what is your goal? Select one of your values and think about the situations where you don’t do as well as you would like. Try to see if there are any specific triggers or specific irritants of which you should be aware.
Do some brainstorming and come up with ideas on how you can improve your rating with respect to this value. What new belief, behavior or habit would help?
To improve sympathy, you might start by believing you have it pretty good, and others aren’t doing a well as you are. You might try behaving in a less arrogant manner, be less haughty or aloof, and become more approachable. You might try to replace a habitual sneer with a habitual smile.
Now it’s time to get a plan together. To help you change your belief about how well you have things, you might want to look at income, housing, quality of life, health and other aspects of life. Where do you rank, and where do others in your country or the world rank? Does that help you have a little sympathy for those who are worse off than you? That’s a start.
Try to figure out when you are most likely to behave in a less than graceful manner, and come up with an alternative. If you tend to look arrogant when people talk about their problems, you could try to work on a more attentive expression, nodding your head from time to time. It won’t always work, but by starting, you have spun some cobwebs.
Try to find at least one place each day to exercise this new value. When you find you have behaved in the old manner, take note and plan to be more aware next time, so you can do better. Each success is another cobweb, and you are building them together to form a new habit.
There will be days when you do better, and days that you do worse. But the whole point of a habit is you keep doing it. Keep after your improvements and eventually you will be there. You might not remember it, but there was a time when you couldn’t do 10 push-ups or 10 sit-ups or 10 chin-ups. Or perhaps you still can’t do that many.
All that matters is that you start trying and continue to improve, no matter how slowly. I am more impressed by someone who struggles to do one push-up, then attempts a second, than I am with someone who can knock out 50 without breaking a sweat. Which of your inner values are you going to start building up?