Live Your Dream

Every man has to live his own life. We cannot live the life of someone else.

We have to choose our own goal post. The goal post is nothing but a dream that we live for. A dream that we can die for. And most important of all, a dream that we have chosen for ourselves. Everyone needs a dream. Without any dream, hope or goal, life becomes meaningless. A dream brings focus to our life. It injects passion into our activities. And if you are willing to give your life for your dream, better be sure that the dream you want to live is your own and not someone elses.

There are many organizations and people in this world who make a living by selling their dreams to others. Most of the corporate commercials, government propaganda, election manifestos, personal development bloggers, NGOs and many other religious, social and anti-social groups sell a dream to the gullible public, to anyone who cares to listen. And the unsuspecting common man becomes a hapless victim of these propaganda by getting carried away by their promise. They buy into those dreams, thinking that they are working towards a worthy goal which was in fact planted into their mind by these propaganda machines. So, in effect, they start running towards a goal post which was planted by someone else. They live the life that others say is the correct life. They buy the stuff that others approve of. They do the things that others tell them to do. Ultimately, they become slaves to some others' dream. The other persons dream becomes their borrowed dream.

And finally, after putting all the effort to materialize someone else’s dreams, when they think that they have reached the destination, the goal post has invariably been changed. They become distraught, disheartened and wrecked from all the fruitless effort. This is because they do not run to their own goal post.

We need to have the courage to dream our own dream and follow them.

But then, the question is how do we identify which dream is ours and which is a borrowed dream and how to find our own dream?

If you already have a dream, but do not know if that is your own dream, please do a thought exercise. Examine your dream. As yourself the following questions
- Why do you have that dream?
- What is the motivation behind it?
- Is the motivation in alignment with your own value system?
- Has the dream stayed with you for long - meaning is it something that you have been dreaming for a long long time?
- Is the dream congruent to your own life and with the life of other people around you, who are important to you?
- Is it going to make you and others around you happy, feel fulfilled and contented?

If the answer to all these is yes, then this is your own dream. So, just go ahead and do it. Live it.
And yes, your dream can also be a shared dream. A dream that may have originated with someone else’s idea, may appeal to you.  But, just ensure that you have internalized it so much that it has become part of you.

If you do not have a dream, the path towards our dream will be shown by none other than your own self. Discover your own passion by delving into your thoughts and actions. Your conscience usually points you to the right direction of your dream. Think about the time in your life that you have been really happy. Think about the actions that make you feel fulfilled and contented in the past.
The following questions can help to point you towards your dreams.
- What are the creative thoughts that you spend most of your time on?
- What are the thoughts that make you happy?
- What does your inner voice say?

And, once you have got a dream, just live it.  Live your dream!

What and why of Values

Values are the ideas and beliefs that we hold as special. However, values, in many cases, may seem to be misplaced or wrong. We may tend to place more value or priority or weightage to some idea or belief and less to others. Some of our values are clear. But most of them are muddled or ambiguous or unknown. So how do we build a correct value system? As per Steven Covey, the celebrated author of “7 habits of highly effective people”, if we base our values on the unchangeable, fundamental principles of life, then we can have a correct value system.
Before we get on to how to build a correct value system, one may question why do we require a correct value system?
Society is a fabric made up of human beings as its individual fibre. In order to have a society that runs in a peaceful and sustainable way, each fibre has to be strong. If the value system of a person is not correct, the fibre is weak and there will be holes in the fabric. A correct value system is required to have a good society.
But how do we know our values? How do we get to evaluate them? The vehicle of thought is our instrument to take us to the roots of our value system. With conscious introspection on our actions and watching over our thoughts (self-awareness), questioning using our conscience, we can get to know our values.
The value system is like an iceberg. There is a portion of it over the water which one can easily see and identify. However, a much larger portion is underneath the surface and is difficult to unearth. However, it influences a person and directs the decisions in his life. So, how do we uncover our values?
One may start with all the things that the person likes and then derive the idea or belief that is behind it. This is to identify our values which are at the surface. If someone has already put some thought on it, then, it may help as an exercise to write down the values that one holds dear. It is impossible to enumerate all of one’s values as most of them will be not clearly available or distinguished, many belonging to the realm of the sub-conscious. To unearth our hidden values, we need to analyze our actions and deduce the underlying values.
Having written down whatever values, one feels, one holds dear, and whatever hidden values that one is able to identify, one may proceed to dissect each of those one by one. One needs to analyze what are the fundamentals or principles on which a particular value is based on. Upon analysis, we can discover that we may have some conflicting values. We may discover that some of our values are based on incorrect foundations or fundamentals. Then we may work on consciously creating a set of values, based on right fundamentals and principles. A right value system will lead us to making decisions that are true to us and fair to others as well. The right decision, leads to right action or conduct, which shapes our behavior and builds our habits and re-enforces our character.

How habits make a person

It has been told that "Man is a creature of habit". Well, may be. Let us explore this some more. So, what came first, the man or the habit? Well, bad joke, never mind. What I really wanted to say was, does man makes the habit or habits make a man? This is like which came first - The egg or the chicken.
But unlike the chicken-egg question, the man-habit question has a simple straight forward answer. The answer to this is, man first makes the habit. Then, later on, habits make the man. Habits are really powerful. Once established, they run our lives in auto-pilot mode. We trust our habits so much that we never for even once doubt them.  We blindly trust them and leave all our actions on them without slightest of awareness.
But again, we are the ones who form the habits. Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not a act but a habit".  Man initially makes the habit by repeating an action several times. Any action that we perform produces feelings of pleasure or comfort or discomfort. These actions, if they do not produce any discomfort, we tend to perform them often. If we perform them often, these actions become easy to do. And our brain, which is has been programmed for pleasure and comfort seeking activities, slowly over a period of time, strengthens the connection between the act and the pleasure/comfort that it gives.  Thus a habit is established by our own actions. But the habit, after being established, then runs our life.
Let me take an example of smoking. A person, who smokes now, was not a smoker always. When he was born, he was born with no habits at all. Over the course of his lifetime, he picked up many habits. May be out curiosity, he smoked once. He may or may not have liked the experience. Nevertheless, he did not acquire the habit of smoking yet with his first smoke. But the next week, a friend offers a smoke and he tries a few puffs.
He keeps on doing the same, whenever he meets that particular friend. One day after another, slowly, he gets into the act of smoking when he is with the friend. Slowly, he gets a kick out of smoking. His brain registers this as a pleasurable activity. He feels comfortable smoking. He gets into the habit.
Now, the habit takes over his life. He needs to smoke every 2 hours or so. Any small thing that happens in life which increases his stress levels, it calls for a comforter and the answer is a smoke. He smokes after a meal. He smokes when he reaches office. He smokes before he gets into an important meeting and smokes after the meeting is over. He always looks for opportunities to smoke and cannot stay away from it. It impacts his personal life, his professional life and his social life. He is drawn into the vertex and keeps spinning and going down ruining his health and ultimately his life.
Thus, something which started as an innocent curiosity turned out to become a Frankenstein. This is how habits control our life. But we are free to choose our habits. And we are free to change our habits also. On that some time later.

6 Steps to a Running Habit

I was once an absolute coach potato. I did not move at all from the couch. But now, it is different. I have become an enthused runner. People, once they know that I run regularly, ask me how I could start and sustain the running habit.

My shortest answer to them is “Do whatever to run regularly”.

Here is a slightly longer version:

1. Have a reason for why you should be running:

Having a reason helps keep you in track. My reason for running was to reduce my weight as I was having some health issues. You may have more than one reason as well. For me another reason is that I want to instill good habits in my daughter who I know would consciously or unconsciously emulate some of my habits as she grows up.

2. Set at least one goal before you start running:

As with everything, have a goal before starting out. The goal is a sign-post. My goal was to consistently run for at least 3 days a week for 14 weeks. This goal was kind of easy, because it did not force me to run every day. I could choose any 3 from 7 days of the week. That gave me flexibility. As I started becoming more consistent, I set my self other types of goals like covering 5k in 50 minutes and slowly reduced the time required to run 5k to 30 minutes. Set small achievable goals and keep raising the bar.

3. Make and stick to a running schedule:

I consulted many running programs like the C25K, learn to run etc available over the internet. I choose to use the “learn to run’ program which gave step by step instructions to progress from walking to running. I created a schedule based on it. This  was in a simple excel sheet and I followed the schedule meticulously day after day. Whenever I completed the walk-run session for a day, I changed the cell color of in the excel sheet to green. If I missed running in one day, I could make it up the next day so that I stick to run 3 days in a week. I tinkered with the schedule to make it convenient for me when necessary, but tried not to compromise on missing out any session.

4. Keep up your motivation to achieve you goal:

You can be motivated by many things. Some are motivated by discussions, some by watching movies, some by reading. I realized that am motivated if I read more running blogs and the success stories in them. I continued reading up on walking, running, diet and nutrition for almost 1 hour every night.

Talk to your family and friends and let them know about your rationale to take up running and your goals. Enlist their support for motivating you. Whenever I call my mother, she asks me how my walking is going on. I also ask about her yoga and walking. We keep each-other informed if we miss a session and support and chide each other as well.

Another way is to keep a journal of your progress. This one really helped me. I just used a simple text file. I mentioned a date and a one or two liner on how much I ran or walked-ran in what time and how I felt during and after the session.  After filling in this journal for a few weeks, I was happy to see my progress.  With whatever time and distance data in there, I would play with it to find how much calories were burned, how I was improving, etc. This kept me motivated.

Starting and continuing a running habit needs more mental preparation that anything else. Plan to run the night before. Visualize what time you would go running, make time for that, visualize how you will feel when you run and how you will feel after the run.

5. Persist: Just do it:

There are days when you do not feel like running. However, just put on your running shoes and go out of the door. Walk for some time, even if you are not motivated to run. Even after walking, if you do not like running then you may come back. But at least you will have the small victory of dressing-up and going out against your inertia. Sometimes, in spite of all your effort, you may miss out a run. But do not give up even if you miss a day of training/practice. Run again the next day. If you plan to run 3 days in a week, just ensure that you do it. You may have planned to run on monday, wednesday and friday. But if that is not possible, run on wednesday, thursday and friday. You may not be able to stick to your day/time schedule, but try to stick to the frequency at least.

6. Avoid inertia that breaks your running:

Avoid anything which might lead to a break in your effort to establish a running habit. I have seen that if for any reason, I miss my running for 3 straight days, it is difficult for me to get myself running on the fourth day. The inertia sets in. So, I ensure that I never take a running break for 3 days or more. If I have not run for 2 days continuously, on the third day, I just do it.

Try to avoid running injuries. Any injury leads to break in the running schedule and it becomes difficult for the running habit to be established. Running injuries for most beginners start with running high volume. Hence, an absolute beginner should alternate between walking and running. Increase the running time slowly over a period. Remember that however slow we run, you are still running faster than someone who is sleeping.

Once you start doing all these, it helps sustain your running and running creates a powerful and positive feedback loop. After a few weeks of running when your body adjusts to it, you start feeling good after every run and that motivates you to go for the next one. Then you notice changes in yourself. You become leaner and fitter. Later others notice and complement you and you feel really good about it!

Small success leads to greater and greater success and the loop of positive re-enforcements helps to establish your running habit!