The Gradual Slip Effect

Article in the Mindscape Section of the April 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

There was this incident that a friend narrated to me about the first time she went to live with her grandmother for a week. Now her grandmother was an independent old woman who lived alone ever since she was widowed and on the day of my friend’s visit, there were other guests there too. At the dinner table, on the spotlessly clean table cloth, first of all there was a spread of delicious food, there was awesome cutlery, the appropriate wine glasses, hand towels, beetroots and carrots cut in the shape of flowers, also actual flowers on side tables that sent out a wonderful fragrance in the room and so on. The next day there were no guests and it was just my friend and her grandmother for dinner but all these arrangements remained. And the next day and the next. So on the fifth day, my friend asked her grandmother why she went through the trouble of making all these special arrangements for dinner even on days when they didn’t have any guests. Her grandmother replied, “It all starts with one small slip my dear. At first you think the fresh flowers aren’t necessary. Then you wonder why you have to cut those carrots and beetroots into designs if nobody else is going to see them. Then you use regular wine glasses instead of goblets. Eventually even the food you cook gets reduced to the “easy to cook” and run of the mill dishes until you are finally eating takeaway sandwiches or cup noodles in your couch”.

The insight from her grandmother’s advice is what I call the Gradual Slip Effect. First and foremost, it is a phenomenon that comes into play only when a person already has an established positive behaviour or habit and when the slip happens, that gradually starts to fade. It is applicable to wellbeing as much as it is to the overall quality of life and various dimensions of it. You never move from having a flat abdomen to having a pot belly over night. The slip happens very gradually. So gradually, that even if you put a camera in front of the person, it’ll be weeks before you notice any change. If you’re a person who’s been working out regularly, it’s quite unlikely that you stop cold turkey. You know the gradual slip effect is at work when you move from working out every day, to taking Sundays off, to taking the whole weekend off, to taking a mid week “recovery” break, to working out at least twice a week to eventually justifying to yourself that if you’re working out just once a week, you might as well not do it at all and then you quit altogether. The same is true with the start of various other behaviours including the usual suspects like drinking, smoking and eating junk food. It starts with being a teetotaller (your established positive behaviour), then shifts to being a social drinker, then an “only weekend” drinker, and I think you know the rest. People develop new behaviours (both good and bad ones) gradually. It is a really precious minority that is able to change a behaviour in one shot. The idea is to catch yourself with a slip that could be ever so slight and ensure that you bring yourself back on track before things go spiralling downwards. If you are a calm and composed person who’s been noticing of late that you are developing a short temper, it would do you good to catch yourself when you are experiencing even an iota of an irritation and correcting that behaviour before you are screaming your lungs out at someone and burning precious relationship bridges.

By the way, there’s no hard and fast rule that you need to workout every single day or that you must drink only socially or even that people must always be calm and composed. That’s clearly not what I am prescribing. People must have the freedom to do what they want to in life. Awareness of phenomena like the “Gradual Slip Effect” and using that awareness to your advantage ensures the development of positive behaviours and healthy habits far more easily.

You Become What You Talk About

Article in the Mindscape Section of the February 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

Try this simple experiment. Record the things you say for an entire day, starting from when you wake up in the morning until you go to bed. You could use a Dictaphone or your mobile handset or any other recording device to do this. Once you are done, review the recording and make a note of the kind of words that you’ve used as well as the different themes that you’ve discussed through the day. Consider doing this for a week and you might surprise yourself with the things you find out about what you talk about. People I’ve suggested this to in the past have been able to make a remarkable difference in their levels of wellbeing and in their lives overall. Here’s what I’ve observed.

The kind of words you use has a serious impact on your wellbeing. You might attract certain ailments as well as life situations based on what you talk about and the words you use to talk about them. People often use phrases like

  • My boss is a pain in the neck
  • This job is such a headache
  • It hurts me when people talk like that or even simply I am hurt….
  • I am stuck in this mess
  • I have to bear the load of the entire family
  • Even thinking of doing it makes me shiver
  • It is difficult to move forward or ahead
  • She gives me a lot of heartache
  • He back stabbed me
  • I can’t see any solution for this problem

The power of the words you use is so huge that repeating a phrase like “pain in the neck” several times over for days on end could actually ensure that you end up with spondylitis or a stiff neck. People who use many of the above phrases could quite certainly end up with various kinds of health problems, starting from mild fevers and chills to debilitating migraines and heart diseases or immobilizing back aches and arthritis. The bottom line is that you become what you talk about.

Another thing to watch out for when you listen to your recording is the kind of information that you are reporting or discussing in your conversations. Try asking 5 different people you know about what’s happening in their lives. You’ll notice that some people spontaneously start discussing their poor health, their unfortunate life situation, the increasing pollution, poverty and every other thing that’s going wrong in the world. And guess what? What they focus on expands. These are the people who attract more of these negative situations into their lives so that they can talk about them and also attract the people who want to partake in these discussions. Low levels of wellbeing and negativity are likely to be recurrent themes in the lives of such people. On the contrary, there are some people who spontaneously start talking about things that are exciting, upbeat and wonderful in their lives. These people invariably attract better levels of wellbeing, success and happiness into their lives along with the people they could discuss them with. In either case, you get more of what you talk about. And I must add, talk about sincerely. If you talk about good health and prosperity but you actually don’t believe in it, you attract nothing.

Try this and you are bound to get to a better state of wellbeing. First examine the words that you use and eliminate completely the words that that imply pain, suffering, failure or any kind of discomfort. Better still; replace these words with words that are more positive and empowering. For example, instead of saying “I am stuck” or “this is such a headache”, you could say something like “I am learning a lot through this experience” or “this situation is making me a stronger person” or even just “this is helping me step out of my comfort zone”.

Secondly, spot the recurrent themes that you keep discussing and the people you keep discussing them with. I understand it might be difficult to eliminate the negative people from your life, but what you could certainly do is eliminate the negative themes. For example, the next time someone asks you about what’s happening in your life, make a focused effort of identifying, reporting and discussing what’s going well in your life. And be assured, there’s always something going well. The more you talk about it, the more it spreads to all other areas of your life.