Habit Loop

Emperor Akbar was in a state of siege. His practice of daily exercising was languishing and it had been almost 5 months that he had participated in any physical sport. The royal doctor was worried and he approached Birbal the court jester, to find a solution for whatever was ailing the king.

Birbal was soon invited to a walk in the garden with the emperor who was looking visibly ill at ease.

“Sire, you look unwell. Should I call for the royal doctor if the ailment is physical or for music genius tansen if it is spiritual”.

“No Birbal, it is nothing specific. I just seemed to have slipped out of my routine of exercising everyday and now cant find a way back to the groove and thus experience this strange listlessness all day.”

“My king, why, that is very simple to go back to. Start to walk 50 steps today and add 10 steps every day and in no time you would be pacing length and breath of the entire Fatehpur Sikri.”

“Bibal, it is not that easy. I have to be battle ready soon. A king cannot but be at his peak physical form if he has to lead his army in wars”

“Maharaj, this focus on final result is actually barricading your start. When you look at the distance you have to travel from your current state it feels daunting. However that’s the wrong focus on two counts.

Firstly all big goals are achieved by compounding and hence what appears daunting to a linear scale is merely a cognitive trick as it is a gross miscalculation of the effort involved in reaching there.

Secondly you are right it is not easy though the task itself is fairly simple. The task itself is to start very small and then take small incremental steps everyday. However the tough part is maintaining the consistency of those small steps over time.

To do those steps, day after day, without fail even when you are unwell or it is raining or you had an extra drink in the night or you are not up to it is where we are challenged. So my king the deception is not in length of distance that we have to travel but in ritualisation of steps that we must lift towards it.”

“That’s a very neat insight Birbal. You are saying that I should be process focused and not outcome focused if I want big results.” Akbar said admiriningly. After a while of silent saunter as the emperor disgested this information, he had a doubt.

“Birbal what if, I am not feeling up to it on any day. What do I do”.

“Sire, daily routines are a combination of personal motivations and environmental nudges. So if you are not feeling up to it on any given day, set up your environmental triggers to give you a push. For example get a walking partner and let him show up at your bed chamber at 6 o clock every day ( maharaja man singh is getting circular around the waist, sire) or make it a point to greet your garrison at the east Lahori gate. So you know they will expect their emperor every morning at 6.30 am or let your attendant lay out your walking dress in the night itself or change the direction of your bed so that morning sunlight catches it or start to feed birds outside your window so that they create a racket every morning. There can many more such small set ups emperor and they all help in cementing of the routine.”

“Inspite of all this, if I miss someday, then what happens” king was adamant.

“In that case sir, follow the never miss twice rule. It states that you will occasionally fail to show up however you will never repeat the same and thus not miss two days in a row” the ready wit Birbal quipped.

Leave a comment