The little compromises that kills us

What happened to me


It was 31st October, 1998 at 1:30 pm.

The passing out parade of our IPS batch at the National Police Academy had just gotten over. In the IPS Mess, we were celebrating the completion of our training. Yay!

I was now a real IPS officer — not a trainee anymore. On the shoulders of my khaki uniform, I would now have two stars, not one.But most importantly, our mornings would not start with some ustaad (physical training instructor) screaming at us daily at 5:15 am.

We were now free men.

But to give credit where it is due, this 10-month rigorous training had made us fit like race-horses — I could have run 10 miles on a trot. Any athletic activity — be it rock climbing, horse-riding, or rope-climbing — I could do it effortlessly. Not bad for someone who flunked the physical activity course at IIT, which only required an occasional morning walk and run!

In short, I was now at my peak fitness and resolved to maintain it.

Yet, just 5 years later, I had lost all my strength and stamina, and was plagued by a bad back. I was nothing like the guy who came out of the National Police Academy.

What did I do wrong? What is the one big mistake I made?

Drinking? No — I was always a teetotaller. Overeating or other indulgences? No.I did not commit any single, big mistake.

Instead, I started making small compromises.

I had resolved to run every morning but I started making excuses — ‘I am traveling,’ or ‘I am busy,’ or ‘I will do it tomorrow. Today I don’t feel like it.’

Once the rhythm broke, the inertia kicked in. It felt so much harder to get started again. And before I knew it, I was working day and night, and gave no time to my fitness and well being.

How much I now missed those ustaads (PT instructors) who would scream at us to run harder!

But why did I allow this decline?

After my training, if someone had told me “Take it easy for the next few years man. Why torture yourself by working out or running?”, I would have been outraged. We rarely make big compromises because the alarm bells in our mind go off.

But when it is a small compromise, e.g., “Not today, let’s run tomorrow,” our defenses are not triggered. After all, it is not going to kill us.

But one compromise leads to the next. And that chain never stops. And before you realize, you have gone down so much that you don’t even recognize yourself.

What I learned


1. Start small, be consistent

Sometimes, we feel that for big changes in our life, we need some drastic action. To lose weight, we need an extreme 30-day crash diet. To learn programming, we need to study 10 hrs a day. Not really! Don’t forget — a small decline daily can bring us down so much. So, won’t a small improvement every day take us to the top? Taking small steps daily is easy — e.g., we all can read 30 min daily, but almost anyone would quit if we had to learn 10 hrs a day.

2. It is all about the mindset

When we started our bootcamps, we resolved that all our bootcamps or sessions will start dot on time. 5:00 am is not 5:01 am. But what difference does 1 min make in a 24 hr day? It is about the mindset, if you cross the line by 1 min, the next day it will be 3 minutes. And when you have crossed it enough times, the line no longer exists. And this is good news. If you want your life to change, pick one activity and start doing it WITHOUT any compromise. In our bootcamps, we ask everyone to join dot on time.Inside every little compromise, lies the seed of decline and decay — keep pushing back.

3. What if you fail some day?

Is it over? No — as long as you are making a sincere effort to get back on track, the game is on. We are not looking for perfection in the outcome, but perfection in our effort and intention. If you could not follow through one day, acknowledge it as an aberration, understand the root cause, and try hard the next day to get back on track. There is no failure, only honest effort.

4. The big bonus

When you pointedly refuse to compromise in one area of your life, your mind starts taking pride in it. It motivates us to stay disciplined in other things also. Any compromise even in other areas will make you uncomfortable.The way you do one thing gradually becomes the way you do everything. Over time, you will find that you have developed a totally new approach to life — the ‘no-compromise’ approach.

What I want to leave you with


If you choose to, here’s how you can implement this approach in your life— starting today:

1. Pick one task that you want to do differently. Ideally, it should be something that will bring a sense of progress and meaning to your life. It could be learning a skill or hobby, working on a side-project, a fitness routine, etc.

2. Choose what action you will take — e.g., reading for 30 min a day, or anything appropriate. Keep it unreasonably easy.

3. Pick a precise time and context for the task — e.g., Mon, Wed, Friday, at 7 pm, you will sit in your study room and read a particular book for 30 min.

4. After that, fanatically pursue the goal — don’t allow even one minute deviation. It doesn’t matter if the progress is slow, relentlessly push for consistency. If some day, you get late by a few minutes, don’t ignore it. Study the reason, find a fix, and implement it at the next opportunity.

5. If you go off track, keep coming back on track.

6. Do it for 30 days, and see what happens. Your mindset will start changing.

If this idea has helped you in some way, I would be very happy to hear from you. You can simply reply to this email — I may not always be able to respond but I do read every email. Keep fighting. Never surrender. Never quit.

Until next time,

Rajan

HabitStrong Newsletter by Rajan Singh

In this fortnightly newsletter, Rajan shares inspiring lessons and stories from his career as an IPS officer, McKinsey consultant, investor, and now, as a startup founder. Join 25,000+ subscribers.

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