Stages of Drive

Motivation is temporal. Good music, a cup of coffee, or a great TED talk could make you feel inspired, pumped up, and raring to go – but give yourself a couple of setbacks, and that same source of inspiration might start to feel like a toy hammer against a two-tonne rock. You’ll need something way more powerful than a short spurt of energy to break down the barriers in your way.


Stages of Drive

I like to think of motivation in terms of stages. Each stage represents evolutionary growth in our personalities, in the very core of our beings – and that can be ultimately reflected in the way we are driven. Getting to the next stage means that we are motivated by a new kind of desire; a new purpose or meaning forms the foundation for our actions, and a new force gives us power to overcome the unsurmountable. This motivating energy is fundamentally different between stage to stage, and I imagine it to be on a hierarchical scale: higher stages present more sustainable and powerful energy, while lower stages burn brightly at first, but wear off just as quickly, especially in the face of challenges. And challenges are aplenty when we are engaged in any worthwhile pursuit, so if we don’t transcend to the next stage fast enough, we may not be able to persist in our mission!


Driven by Success

In the first stage, success is motivated by success. Our drive to get things done is derived from the feel-good sensation of having seen success in either someone else, or ourselves. That’s why inspiring TED talks, tales of exemplary people in their field, or even a sports game can cause us to be fired up about our own projects. We see great people swinging their hammers of accumulated ability and smashing apart boulders with seemingly effortless ease, and we think to ourselves – hey, we could be like that too. So we pick up our own tiny hammers and take up our own quests. We embark on our creative projects, our ambitious routines, our competitive journeys. When we succeed for the first time, the dopamine rush makes us feel great; it makes us want to repeat the fantastic experience. The more fortunate ones of us may get to see longer stretches of success than others, and for as long as our season of victory continues, we may believe that we have finally found the holy grail to this game of life. We have no trouble waking up in the morning, swiping aside any sort of negativity, and getting on with our day – smashing problems to smithereens left, right, and center.

But soon enough, regardless of talent or chance, we may meet with an unexpected failure. Our book launch fails. We miss a scheduled exercise session. The competitor trumps us decisively. We feel horrible, and the negative thoughts are harder to swipe off each morning. At first, we may try to block off the hard feelings by listening to more inspiring talks, watching more incredible wins, telling ourselves about how we have attained the gold medal before, and how we can do it again. Temporarily, we are fired up. We keep at our quests. We keep breaking boulders. Yet, the experience of negativity is inevitable: the harder we try, the more we expose ourselves to failure. Each experience of failure makes the naive part of us realize that all the buzz associated with doing well is only just fairy dust and butterflies – it’s not substantial enough to take us all the way to the top. Eventually, that link between our quest and the feel-good, dopamine-rush of success gets completely rend asunder; to truly complete our quest, we conclude that it is essential to go through the dirt, the mud, and the thorn vines. There are no shortcuts. We don’t feel quite as excited anymore. For some of us, this critical realization makes us want to give up – which may not always be a bad decision. But for the rest of us who really, really want to turn our visions into reality, we become obsessed with the question: how do I keep myself motivated? How do I persist beyond the sting of failure?


The First Transition

To do that, we’ve got to change our focus. I call this the temporal shift, because we take our eyes away from short-term, feelings-driven, self-indulgent motivation to a longer-term, vision-centered drive. We stop thinking about how an activity makes us feel good, but we think of how our vision and mission is important to us. We focus on that vision more than the temporary good-feels that a short streak of success gives us. This means that we are okay with not feeling okay. In fact, we begin to embrace failure – it is just part of the process of growing. By focusing on the longer term mission instead of the shorter term feelings and sensations, we have made the first transition.


Driven by Growth

Once we’ve made the temporal shift, our eyes are set on higher things. We are no longer motivated by the sweetly deceptive allure of success, but instead, we continue bravely, exposing ourselves to difficulties – difficulties that could lead to even more failure. It may be terrifying, yet we quell our fears and press on. This vision that we have is so important, so captivating, that we begin to learn how to take the failure in stride. We except it like how we except the cycles of night and day, the seasons of spring and summer. We learn how to make it work for us instead of against us.

Indeed, in order to achieve what we can imagine, we must accept that growth is absolutely essential. We hit against strong boulders and they do not break because we do not have the right tools, technique, or strength. Failure and mistakes are now re-framed – instead of being the horrible, unacceptable parts of our quest, they become guiding lights, homing beacons, signposts; information that guides us to the very tools we need to move or break the barriers in our way.

To be quite frank though, making mistakes alone is no road to victory. Neither is it a pleasant experience. Just because we’ve switched our motivation does not mean that the bitter fruit is no longer bitter. No, it is still inimically bitter, but we eat it to get better. We are incensed, incentivized, and inspired to study all our losses with greater diligence and alacrity. We know that this is the only way to learn. No, we do not make mistakes with pleasure, nor derive perverse joy from falling each and every time in battle – our senses are still preserved and our tastes are still refined.

What we do is to let the failures guide our path away from more failure. We still feel the sting of defeat and the pain of a thrashing, so we would still prefer to take a victory over a loss at any time. But we are now more resilient, we are more patient, and we can deal with the pain long enough to discover the new pathways that we can take to grow. We do that by managing our negative emotions, and engaging in quiet reflection and contemplation. Moving from post-defeat pity to (not overly-detached! but) fully-engaged reflection is an evolution of character. Doing so will give us critical insights that can bring us closer to victory road. Through continuous reflection and adjustments, we avoid past mistakes and repeat what works until we know what each situation calls for, until we develop confidence in our own skills and abilities. In other words, it is through mistakes that we are pushed towards acquiring a bigger, better hammer, and it is through reflection, application, and correction upon re-correction that we learn to possess it.

The end goal for us is no longer that temporary sense of satisfaction, but the stable sense of growth – a pursuit of excellence, a mature, resilient motivation – an unshakable knowing that our selves have grown to the point that we can acquire satisfaction more easily than before, indeed to the point where we no longer worry about it. Give a man a large hammer and he may learn to break rocks. Teach a man to forge his own, and all the rocks of the world are for his breaking.

And yet, there is an end to this stage. There is a cliff that we reach, a path that we can no longer easily traverse on foot. The block here is yet another negative feeling. We’ve worked so hard in the past, dusted our knuckles against the rocks, plumbed the depths of our soul for the inspiration to continue against seemingly unbeatable odds, but now that we’ve gotten so far, there is a creeping shroud of uneasiness that begins to overtake us. We start to feel soft, saggy, stagnated. Things that were difficult for us are now easy. We look for the next peak to scale, but it feels like way too much effort. We want to stay here. We want to bask in our worn-out glory, lay in our half-baked success (because half-baked is good enough for us), and stay unperturbed by the forces of change.

But, if the bit of us that first discovered the beauty of our vision still remains somewhere deep within, we will feel that creeping shroud of uneasiness with greater sensitivity. It will permeate our beings and cause us to be unable to laze with serenity. No, we are plagued with a relentless invasion of ennui – we know that we must strive harder. But to what ends, and for what purposes? We tell ourselves that we are satisfied, though, if we were really honest, there is still something not quite complete about our success. Right at where we are at, there is a danger of being ensnared by stagnation, bogged down by boredom, and goaded into the same goals as everyone else. Our projects may be unique, but they seem like just another dime in a pile of so many. Our routines may feel effective, but it’s still someone else’s, stolen from the net somewhere. Our victories are sure, but only because we copied the strategies of another. We are successful, we have overcome failure, but we have yet to find our voice. And that is the thing that bugs us, that is the thing that irritates us, yet it feels insufficient to motivate us forward. We need to get to the next stage, and fast.


The Second Transition

So far, we have only striven for ourselves. We’ve put ourselves through the furnace to look for gold within, we’ve traversed the path of peril to seek treasure without, we smith and re-smith stronger hammers to bash the boulders in our way – but things get too difficult past a certain point. Things may even just get too boring. So what gives us the push – or to put it another way, what sucks us through to the other side? Whatever it is will have to be a higher, transcendent purpose. We need to take our eyes off ourselves, and stop asking for what we can gain from it. We need to start looking at the bigger picture. What can we give? Who can we serve? How do we reach that state of evolved strength that enables us to smash the boulders in other people’s way? Previously, we made a temporal shift, a vital change in perspective from short to long-term. Now, we must make a planar shift, to cease looking at the small area of space that we know as ourselves, and to begin setting our gaze on the wider world. Our perspective must be enlarged, it must grow to encompass not just the people we naturally care about, but also the people whom we don’t yet know, people whom we could one day serve.


Driven by Service

First we were motivated by success, and then by growth. Now, with a stable, empowered self, we make a planar shift, peer out of our shells, and feel compassion for the world around us. At this third stage, we are motivated by service. We have more than enough to share, and we want to give it to where it is needed most. This is, of course, the ideal. Usually, upon venturing out into the world, we may instead learn that our current skill set is not enough to meet the ever-growing demand. Or we may realize that it is not sufficiently fine-tuned for it to be effective. This gap is what draws us forward. It sucks us into a continuum of growth, and makes us able to bear with the days of darkness and desperation up ahead – day that can and will come when we delve deep enough into self-development of all sorts. We may feel lost, we may feel like we want to give up – but when we compare our miniscule pain with the colossal ache of the world, we know for sure that it is only a small price to pay for so great a cause.

Some of us may end up at the other deep end of self-development: complacency. When we get lazy and proud, it is the ones whom we serve who can shake us out of it. Our complacent blindness will lead us to fumble, hopefully in a small way, and immediately, the effects of our mistake reverberate throughout the ecosystem of our influence. Things break down. Systems fall into minor jeopardy. People may get hurt (but hopefully not). All at once, we remember how others need us to be at our best. All at once, we get up, stretch our muscles, and get ready to bust more rocks. There is no time for plateauing when we are service-focused, when our sense of self has grown to include others. We cannot idle in complacency or despair – there are lives and livelihoods at stake. We are pushed off the cliff, and we learn to grow wings.

And as we move out into the world and interact with people – those who can help us and those whom we can help – we are driven towards the deeper ‘why’s’ of doing. Our motivation sheds its selfish outer shell and reveals a vulnerable, humane person within, a person whose heart bleeds for the common cause, and whose hands work to raise others up. At this stage of development, we acquire new facets to our abilities. Previously, our analytical skills helped us grow through failure. By reflection and correction we learn the right path. Now, they show us how our actions can influence or fail to influence others. They show us if our skills are lacking, and whether they are in need of further refinement. On the upside, we also become aware of what works, and what doesn’t; what deserves more time and energy, and what is just a waste of investment. With an expanded sense of self, all the abilities that we’ve developed to understand ourselves become redirected to understand others and our relation to them, transforming us into people who can serve the world effectively.

This can, in many ways, create a distinctive marker in our personal skill sets, helping us to find a unique voice in a sea of so many. It seems like anyone who works hard enough can be a writer, but a writer who writes for gamers, or cooks, or musicians, has found a niche. Extending this to a humanitarian direction brings us to entrepreneurs whose interaction with less fortunate groups drive them to penetrate poverty zones through deftly-organized aid ministries, innovators whose exposure to the countless number in want of a clean drink every morning lead them to discover new ways of creating potable water, and social workers who, when faced with unending demands for skilled attention, use their mastery in technology to multiply the effect of the few on the field. Anybody who puts in the hours, and intelligently grinds through failure after failure, should be able to achieve a fair degree of success, but it is our unique connections to those we interact with, to those whom we feel for, that defines the nature of our expertise, and adds colour to our wings.

As a caveat, we must be careful not to skip steps here. There are many martyrs in this world whose kindness and selflessness are exemplary and admirable. But they remain ineffective in their fields of service, or they may even succumb to the same oppression that they seek to fight against. Why does this happen? Usually, they may have moved straight to stage 3 – the demands of the world around them were so pressing that they had no freedom to develop their strengths first. As such, when challenges come in greater numbers, they cannot care for both themselves and others.

Sometimes, we may be in such a situation because of circumstances. But when given the choice, we should strive to develop in a sound and sequential manner. We need wings before we can save others who are falling, we need a great hammer to smash our boulders, then those of others. While we should not be afraid to step out and serve, neither should we be tempted to rush the pace of our development. Through patience, we grow steadily, accumulate ability, and become a powerful force in whatever field we find ourselves in.

If we do manage to reach this stage without rushing too quickly or hesitating for too long, then our motivation becomes akin to the perpetual motion devices of lore – those around us catalyze our growth as we dedicate the fruits of our labour to serving them. We are inspired, and we inspire, we are motivated and we motivate. Our drive is strong enough to break down all the personal barriers in our way. By now, the only thing that blocks us are the logical limits, things like time and energy. These are things that we can only increase to a certain extent. From there, we will aim for optimal investments of these limited resources. At this stage, we become concerned with fine-tuning, experimentation and achieving the best returns from what little we have. This is a problem that demands constant attention and focus – yet it is a good problem to be dealing with. Because having broken down all the barriers of drive from Stage 1 to Stage 3, we can now look up and gaze into the clear skies for the first time. And that’s when we consider: perhaps, what lies beyond is the limit.


Inner Child Dysfunctions

Do I have a language for these things? These mindless, useless things that I indulge in but are no good for me in the moment – or at least I know that there’s a better solution to my funk but I do them anyway; either out of habit, or because I’m bored, or frustrated, or down.

Whatever it is, I need a language for it, so next time I do something silly again, I can say, “there – another one of those.”

List of silly things I do:
1) open up a phone game in the morning when travelling, and when I’m too tired to do anything else. I think taking some time to meditate or reflect upon the day will be so much more useful.
2) wasting time looking through albums for something to listen to, instead of having a go-to list of songs-to-learn, or at the very least mood-relevant playlists.
3) starting a game of starcraft 2 without a gameplan, a skill I’d like to practice, or a goal whatsoever, and being emotionally invested. Not very good when you lose, and not even particularly good when you win.
4) nibble some snack/make coffee/buy unhealthy food in an indulgent manner whenever I’m tired and need energizing. I’d rather go to fruits or juice or something good for my body but you know, my inner kid wants all that.
5) brooding in moody thoughts instead of doing something productive about it. I think exercising, musicking, or taking a stroll would much better alternatives, even if the ruminating commentary still goes on in the background.

All these things aren’t particularly bad in themselves, but knowing the opportunity cost of these petty indulgences sorta makes it pretty painful to reflect upon. I think I shall call them inner-child dysfunctions, mostly because they tend to happen when some vital part of me is not being taken care of. Either not enough food, rest, socializing, or play.

I think instead of willing myself to enforce better habits when dysfunctions occur, a more effective way is to build a life around taking care of these needs, and then it’d be much easier to make a better choice.

I suppose inner child dysfunctions are signs of poor management in the past rather than indicators of necessary !immediate action in the present – it’s way tempting to go “okay I’m gonna force myself to do exercise/eat better food/meditate instead of whatever” but the energy required to force yourself in the right here and now has to come from somewhere. Even worse, a sudden forceful will applied to an already malfunctioning aspect of the self might associate negative feelings to the activity in question, which damages future endeavours. Is rolling it right in the present so important that you risk your future development over it?

I don’t think so.

Of course it’ll be good not to let everything go south, the inner child also needs to be quite firmly disciplined. So perhaps a well-balanced way out of this predicament is to let yourself fail within limits, and institute placeholder habits instead of giving up entirely (indulge in some snacks, but also throw in a couple of fruits!). Ultimately to think long term and give myself space to fight another day will be on my agenda. Plus of course, to make sure that I am moving towards a better future instead of repeating old mistakes, otherwise I’m just buying time for more dysfunction.

All in all, I suppose these inner-child dysfunctions are quite a common place occurence to everyone. How do you deal with it? I’ll be curious to know.

Meanwhile, I shall attempt to regulate indulgences every now (an important step in avoiding plateauing of growth, or flat-lining of expectations), but an overall plan to take care of those deeper needs in a healthy manner is the right way to go.

Exercise Routine! Part 2: The Reasons Why I Move My Body


For a greater part of my exercise life (and even now, if I’m honest), the primary motivation was to look good. Not that’s it’s bad in itself; looking good is not only a socially valuable trait, but it also improves your self-esteem. The problem is when that’s your main motivation. Of course, I would not be so quick as to admit that. My mind would be thinking “alright, I’m just doing this for health reasons” but my heart will go “ahhh my shrinking biceps!” and compel a dozen sets of poorly executed bicep curls. So at any given time, if I were really honest, I would be able to notice a bit of contradiction between my personal narrative, and what was really going on in my heart. I would be telling myself that I wanted to be fit, an intrinsic goal, while really I was pursuing an extrinsic, superficial one. I wanted to look good so that I can be well-liked and feel good about myself.

Well, first and foremost, as you would guess, I came to the conclusion that this sort of inner contradiction is extremely problematic. It is absolutely critical that you feel good about yourself before you rely on exercise to help you look better, otherwise it’s just like filling up a bucket with a hole in it; the external can only get you so far.

And so I resolved to get something done about the superficiality of my motivations – what really helped though, was simple awareness. Just knowing that I might have the tendency to let what people think about me get the better of me helps to purify my intentions.

Another thing that might help is to consider the cost of unhealthy motivations. Whenever my exercise is driven by a fear that I’m going to get out of shape and people won’t like me anymore, I tend to get mildly abusive of my body; I push it too hard, and ignore warning signs. I won’t be able to tell where the healthy threshold of pain is, mostly because the pain of self-rejection becomes greater than the physical pain of abusive exercise.

And that’s a terrible place to be in. Well, to be honest, we can use this fear-and-pain drive to get us off our butts quite effectively, however, to persist in it for too long is tantamount to self-destruction!

The main principle though, as I realized over time, is to simply be loving to yourself, and the proper actions will follow. Remember that there is absolutely no real change until that change comes from a strong, grounded, and stable source within – self-love. If this resembles your journey, you’ll realize too that exercising out of intrinsic desire will feel incredibly different from exercising out of that extrinsic anxiety-push that we are all too familiar with.

Without further ado though, let me get to some examples of healthy motivations that still drive me today. Not all of them are intrinsic reasons, as you’ll see, but they all arise from self-care and genuine love.

The Instrumental reason

Firstly, function! The modern office worker’s job doesn’t call for much exercise, and as a student, I don’t exactly have to do much of any heavy lifting either. So all the more is it necessary to keep up deliberately practice, especially if you want to maintain a viable level of functional movement. If I let myself loose and get all lazy, when I do need my muscles for some heavy lifting, well, it’s just not going to come out at a moment’s notice.

Furthermore, the standard fundamentals like aerobic fitness are always useful. Even as a student, I find myself walking and standing quite a bit – unfit joints and poorly coordinated limb muscles are just not going to cut it. If you enjoy playing a sport, that’s even better. You’ll need your body in good shape to have even more fun on the field. For me, while I haven’t indulged in sports for a bit, I still play music, and certain standard of muscular dexterity is required.

Whatever the case, function is a good reason for you to get your body moving! Exercises that build up your physical capacities for functional purposes will not overstretch your body, and it should not be too taxing on your joints and muscles. In fact, too much stress will lead to injury, and that’s just contrary to building a fit and functional body.

The Intrinsic reason

But well, as some of you might say, “that’s still all instrumental and non-primary. Am I supposed to move my body just because I want to achieve that?” That’s a question I asked myself too, especially on days when exercise just felt so dry.

The answer came one evening when I decided to abandon that session’s silly routine and do what feels right instead. And I learned on that very evening, that I wanted to move my body because it feels good. Yes, let me repeat that. I wanted to move my body because it feels good.

When was the last time you exercised, and during (not after!) the exercise, you actually thought to yourself – this feels really good! Has it been too long? That could be a problem then! Because if it doesn’t feel good, then why are we even doing it?

Of course there are all the instrumental reasons above, and those are good for revving ourselves up when the usual dopamine reward circuitry ain’t working right, but asides from that, there’s got to be an intrinsic reason every now and then, and this is as intrinsic as it gets: you move your body because it feels good.

So next time you start your exercise routine, play around a bit more and feel your body. Be present. Be thoroughly, magnificently, and completely present. Sometimes, just paying attention to the sensations of your own body is sufficient to put that necessary bit of pleasure into your pain.

Learn what feels good, what doesn’t and move instinctively – regain the pleasure of your own body! Moving because it feels good will structurally define the kind of exercises you do engage in. You will trim down on the standard, brainless exercise repetitions, and begin to include more complex, spontaneous, and fun movements into your routine.

Passion for growth

Finally, I’d say that one other reason which keeps me going every week is definitely that nice feeling you get when you notice how slowly, but surely, you’re getting stronger and stronger, more and more flexible, and gradually fitter too!  Growth creates a snowball effect that makes you want to come back for more. Plus, chasing growth transforms the way you do your exercise; you don’t want to exert so little that there is no growth, nor too much, injuring your body in the process.

The key to getting that sweet spot is in the inverted U-shape. Now, what’s this swanky U-shape thing that Reuben’s talking about? The upside-down U-shape is a symbol of effectiveness as we scale up the pain threshold.

[For those who are interested in the mildly technical explanation:

Imagine pain/effort on the horizontal x-axis, and effectiveness/growth on the vertical y-axis. Now place an inverted U-shape on the graph. Notice how past a certain point at the tip, more effort and pain results in negative negative returns? While not the perfect model, this represent injuries and undue muscle damage caused by over-strain.]

An easy exertion has very little pain, but also sends just as little signals to your body to grow. While it may not be that effective for growth, this level of hurt is good for warm-up. Right now you’re at the side of the inverted U, and it’s pretty easy to ramp up the effort to get up to near the curve at the top.

Once you reach that curve though, things start to get quite painful. When you stretch, do push ups, lift weights, or any other kind of exertion you’ll notice this growing sense of resistance. Your muscles protest, and your mind must push through the pain if you want to continue exerting. This is good pain.

Pushing harder will get you near to the peak of that U shape pain scale, and that is ideally, where you want to get your body to, and spend as much time in as possible during your exercise.

The trick though, is to push as close to the tip of the U as possible, without crossing the peak to the other side. At the other side, further pain is destructive. You may start hurting your joints, nerves and pulling muscles – not exactly productive to your goals. So when you reach the point past the tip, resist the temptation to “work it out” harder; it’s counter-productive. Slowly de-exert your muscles if necessary, and stop. Get ready for the next set instead!

How do you know when the pain becomes bad pain? Well, for this, you’d really need to be physically aware of your body while performing the exercise, which is a simple thing that we too often neglect once the routine sets in. Pain that comes in a manner that feels biting, scraping, grinding, incisive, and tearing -or any other way that feels destructive- is likely to be bad pain.

But that U-peak is quite an elusive zone to keep within; every bit of focus you can channel into bodily awareness while pursuing that ideal will be necessary. Plus, another good reason for exercising is really to help expand your ability to feel your own body too.

Realistically, you’ll find out that quite a bit of time spent on exercise is on warming your body up to the start of the pain-curve and beyond. Once you do reach the tip, it is fairly tiring to sustain. Hence, every exercise session has a limited period of U-peaks. Centering your routines around a selected number of U-peaks is one way to structure your exercises, something I’ll go a bit more into in part III of this short series.

Ultimately though, this is just a cultural tool to help you conceptualize your exercise and pay attention to your body in new ways. Discover your own U-peaks and don’t be too obsessed with “hitting the spot” immediately – everybody learns better with a bit of exploration first!

Check out Part 1 of this 3 part series here: Exercise Routines!: Part 1
Check out Part 2 of this 3 part series here: Exercise Routines!: Part 3

Radical Joy

Garden Fountain

Having recently made a post about sadness, I thought it fit that I explore its emotional counter-pole. In my experience, grief and gladness can be likened to the cycles of day and night; one comes after the other without fail, and sometimes in surprising degrees. In darkness, the first rays of light delight us, in occupation of day, we are shocked by the quick passage of time – it is evening again. Likewise gladness and sorrow take over each other like the sun and the moon upon the night scape. But perhaps much like the oft-cited Ying and Yang symbol, even in stark darkness the sun’s light is reflected from the moon, and in the peak of day, shadows are its darkest; hence a measure of joy exists in overwhelming sadness, maybe in the form of hope, and a touch of sadness exists in exuberant joy, especially when we begin to acknowledge its temporal nature.

But a temporary joy is not near to our conceptions of True Joy, or what I’ll call in this post, Radical Joy. That which is radical diverges from the norm, splits itself off from the body of usual occurrences and constructs for itself a unique, and even isolated milieu in which to exist. If we were to equate joy with ordinary gladness, we would mistake its true potential with its diluted forms. Indeed, I propose that our usual experiences of gladness is far removed from the radical, as much as its radical form is furtively concealed away from the usual. Our normal notions of happiness requires the world to bend to our whims, but this Radical Joy persists in the midst of that eternal contradiction between reality and dreams. Our petty constructs of what will make us content cannot stand in the face of a peerless, ultimately unreasonable Joy, Joy that stubbornly digs deep into the crevices of our souls, and remains planted and firm, refusing to budge whilst all our petty notions of happiness get blown away by the vicissitudes of living, like burnt grass in the wind.

This is a Joy that I believe all of us may have had the fortune of experiencing at least once in our entire lifetimes: That moment when everything seems perfect even when we know it is not, when our entirety of experience and existence converge into the event-horizon of contentment. Nothing could escape that all-consuming Joy. No, we did not bubble in exuberant gladness, nor were we scattered and wild in our heart’s throbbing. Far from it; we were calm, collected, at peace, but all gloom and negativity burnt in the purifying fire of such a radical Joy. Worries could not co-exist in the same time-space of its transformative presence. Sad thoughts were even welcome and became fuel for that transcending fire.

Yet, as great as it seems, as powerful as that moment, or series of moments was for us, it appears that we often let it escape our grasp. From its hiding hole it emerged, back into its abode the creature slinks away. Even if the conception of such a Radical, Law-breaking Joy exists in our minds, or better yet, our souls, the majority of our experiences do not affirm the existence of this fabled unicorn – we forget, we deny, we blunder. We settle for a mediocre joy, one that is dependent on conditions, and satisfaction of wants, and as fragile as a dried twig under a school boy’s boot. We let go of the radical – at least until the next time, when something prods us, and we open up our hearts to let in the unicorn, the all-purifying fire, the great, imperturbable tree of life: Radical Joy itself.

Instead of waiting for reminders to catapult us into that state of divine, blissful contentment, I’d suggest another way to enter that brilliant mindspace as a matter of habit. One element of that mystical type of joy includes an all-embracing thankfulness towards every single mundane thing. It is not our default state to maintain a level of thankfulness; like water flows to lower ground, so our focus of attention tends towards the areas of lack in our lives. Do you remember those days where you wake up in a fantastically good mood, and it feels like nothing is going to get you down? Well, a few hours into work, a flurry of difficult challenges come your way, and ploof! The clouds you were walking on disappears – it’s back to ground zero buddy.

However don’t get me wrong. I’m not interested in advancing an ideology where we guard against anything that disrupts our state of mind, that is obssessed with maintaining a rigidly unrealistic form of happy-denial. Instead, we must first acknowledge the changing nature of the world, and the cyclic nature of our moods. We must let go and let our emotions be, feeling them thoroughly. But likewise we cannot be like seafarers overcome by waves – skillfully we must ride it and surf. Part of this surfing includes choosing to act and think in ways that gently nudges our emotions towards the direction that we so desire. To be angry, act angrily, think angry thoughts. To be sad, fill your mind with melancholic musings. To be joyful, the answer is as simple – in every single mundane thing, find a reason to be glad, to give thanks, to rejoice.

If you can read this, your eyes are working. Rejoice! Look at the beautiful shades and colours that make up this splendid world. Look at the pleasing forms and shapes that tickle the eye and give taste to the visual experience. Let your heart be delighted with the play of light and shadows in the material world around you. Then let your attention sink into the deeper emotional world within. Be glad that you have the space and time to reflect. Think about all the challenges you have faced so far, and how you have overcome them somehow. Recall how you have access to the simple mundane things that enable you to use the internet and make sense of this post. Food that you may at times take for granted, clean water that comes easily, electricity, shelter from the wind and rain, a hug from loved ones. Let all these little oft-ignored things form the texture of your experience; let it be the very air you breathe. In this mode of thankfulness, joy will descend upon you like a butterfly, and like a butterfly you will let it sit, knowing that it may lift from its perch and take flight at any time – and you will let it, with not one strain of resistance. Why grasp upon that which is ephemeral, and more importantly, a state which you can enter into at any time?

So I suggest, while we let the madness and sadness of life wash over us when they may, let us also choose, when we can, to enter into Radical Joy. All we need to do is to be absolutely grateful and gladdened by every mundane thing possible, an exercise that sounds simple, but is as challenging as can be. While we may never truly sustain that temporal state of mind, the fact is that our practice will enable us to build a deep well of imperturbable gladness within – whirlwinds may assault us, but still we can access its tranquility and rejuvenatory power. We can cry, or get angry, or go crazy, yet the fountain remains. That is the very essence of Radical Joy.

The Power of Words

With the advent of graphics, video, and audio based education (such as those on youtube, like TED-ed in particular), words as a medium faces new challenges. Since time is a first class citizen, a person would value highly condensed information over a less efficient form – words. In 5 minutes of watching a video, one could learn the basics of music reading quickly and easily. For instance, check this out:

To explain this to another person in words alone will be a killer.

Nonetheless, words as an individual medium still has its strength.

Words Draw out Imagination

Why is this valuable? The more things are fleshed out in audio-visual detail, the less space you have for variation. Notice how some books can transport you into another world, or how some quotes can zap you with an emotional shockwave? While they rely on a structure of meaning that is readily agreed upon for the majority of readers/writers, they also give space for very personal interpretations. The world that you imagine is often uniquely your own, and that quote probably resonated deeply with some of your own experiences. Videos can do this as well, but words leave a larger gap that challenges the mind to fill up with creative details. Consuming media is never a one-way process! With words, the participation from the consumer’s end has more than enough space to grow.

Within that “imagination space” lies a limited set of interpretation. That is only natural, as unlimited or unstructured meaning can only equate to nonsense. But the beauty lies in the limitless variations within the limits. On a broad spectrum, granted there are only so few interpretations of words. Yet the deeper we delve, the more our embellished details can have the potential to flourish. Hence the strength of hermeneutic studies – can the treasure trove of meaning ever be exhausted? Even when our finite minds and experiences stop us from broadening our readings, collaboration can find a way to multiply them, sometimes exponentially.

Now, one can have the breadth of rich and varied meaning-constructions, but usually that which is the most meaningful to us are the interpretations that we have linked intimately with our own lives – the kind that draws from our experiences of the world, personal histories from our past, or our convictions of how things should be – these are the things that can have the most potential to transform us. Not only do our own interpretations inform us about our own thinking, but if we enter into dialogue with the writer’s content, our thoughts can very well be challenged. Furthermore, if we express this to others, they may likewise have points to add. Our reading then becomes a dialogue that has the potential of changing our mindsets and attitudes about ourselves and the world, and it moves away from the indulgence of one to the conversation of many.

Words can become Power Phrases

Partly due to the nature of words as containers of malleable meaning, one word can trigger a multitude of memories and details. Particularly when tying it to your own personal experiences, the memory and detail triggers tend to become more powerful and meaningful. An intense paragraph on empowering, motivating attitudes can be summarized into a single word, or even at most, a short phrase that can be called to mind at any time to remind you of the vital lessons learned, restoring the multi-dimensional experiences that you first encoded the paragraph with to the forefront of your awareness. Instead of the traditional idea of memory tools being used to recall large chunks of exam-ready information, this concept is what I call Power Phrases.

Power Phrases enable you to recall entire states of information that transcend simple levels of knowledge. While it can probably also function as a tool to help you remember factual data, it works best as a trigger for helping your body get into states of optimal performance. Today’s research into leveraging high-performance states focus on re-integrating the mind with the body. No longer are we content with simply possessing head knowledge – it must be felt on a tangible level too. Perhaps more pertinently, the state of the body has been shown to be able to drastically influence mental and emotional states. Going for a quick run can sometimes literally jog your mind, unlocking integrative solutions for difficult problems. We cannot always excuse ourselves for a quick physical exercise at any time of the day, but tying Power Phrases to specific physical and mental states can give us the boost that we need; all we need to do is speak, and our brains will tap into the deeply wired patterns of strength and resilience that we’ve programmed into our cognitive selves, releasing the energy we need to be the most appropriate versions if ourselves in the pressing moment.

The idea of summoning specific mental states with words alone sounds like a super power. And it probably is! Unfortunately, the laws of physics still apply in this world – to have access to our own psyches on that level, a lot of deep work has to be invested prior to unlocking the power of words. We would have to reconfigure our neurons to fire in specific patterns, push electro-chemical impulses through our brain cells in new and challenging ways, and keep up that mental practice consistently. There is still this sort of learning work to be done, and we can’t fully escape it, but the associative nature of learning Power Phrases can mean that instead of assimilating knowledge foreign to what we already know, we are building linkages with what we already intuitively or historically understand. This will save a lot of time and effort. Though, whether the pay off is worth it is ultimately up to you!