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A matter of principle

"We accept the love we think we deserve."
"You get in life what you're willing to tolerate."
"People in a hierarchy tend to rise to their level of incompetence."

The first statement is from the movie, The Perks of being a wallflower. The second is by the famous blogger, Benjamin Hardy. The third is by Laurence Peter and is now known as the Peter principle.

But, all three statements have the same thing in their essence. That our current state of affairs, who we are, how good we are at something, the relationships we have, the job we have, the skills we have, the habits we have, all boils down to what we tolerate.

Sure, we all aim for the sky and want to be the best at everything we do. We want it all. But, somewhere along the line, we turn pragmatic and begin to tolerate lower levels of achievement. We begin to tolerate the things we end up achieving and learn to be happy with them.

When we are looking to build habits, the same process plays out in our minds, and more often than not it is unconscious.

I plan to read one book a week. Some weeks end up being busier than others or I end up picking up a thicker book that requires more time to read, and I can easily justify not completing that book in that week. Which creates an exception.

This tells the mind that some exceptions are acceptable.

Now, the way our minds work is such that they want to be in a state of least guilt, and preferably no guilt. Once the mind understands that there is a room for exceptions, it expends the much lesser effort needed in convincing the disciplinarian part of the brain that wants to stick to the one book a week routine that the circumstances of this week merit an exception. While not expending the larger effort needed in actually reading the book.

And over time, this results in a lowering of the bar for what can qualify as an exception. And after a few weeks or months, the habit is no longer there.

The same happens with writing daily, working out daily, running daily, waking up early daily, or pretty much any activity that needs a little bit of effort.

It is the same reason that we tend to associate a higher probability to a person being a murderer if they willingly cheat on their taxes than a person that does her taxes honestly. Even though they are otherwise perfectly good people.

It is the same reason that a neighbourhood with broken windows witnesses more robberies and muggings than a well-maintained neighbourhood. And why a messy workplace results in shoddy work as compared to a neatly organised workplace.

Sticking to your principles isn't an intangible virtue that defines a person's character, but a very tangible one as that quality of sticking to your principles seeps into every other aspect of your life.

Next time you're thinking about sweeping something under the proverbial rug as an exception, remind yourself that it isn't a matter of slacking off this one time. Plough on and get it done as a matter of principle.

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