The Cat Guardians and Teeth-brushing
Hi, and welcome back to another story! In case I haven’t mentioned in the past few posts, I appreciate your visit and if you’re a returning visitor, your loyalty. The more lives I touch, the more minds I inspire, the more I’m driven to create new content. Now, before we get started with today’s story, I’d like to ask you to disconnect mentally and socially. We as busy, driven individuals constantly have a million things on our to-do list, physically and mentally. As such, can I ask you to please pick up your phone right now, set it to Do Not Disturb mode (you can turn off the mode once you’ve finished reading), close your eyes, and take 5-10 deep breaths? This is for your own benefit – not mine. Ready? Let’s start.
I close the community gate behind me, leaving home at 8am. It’s another typical Tuesday. I’m walking down the familiar downward sloping asphalt road towards the nearest MRT (train) station. The tree branches are dead still and the birds chirping. After about 20 steps, I glance to the right. There she is, as I suspected, sitting in front of the gate to the neighboring apartment. She stares back at me, just like every other morning, but I know it’s not me she’s waiting for. This dark chestnut-colored stray cat is waiting for her guardian. The guardian, every morning like clockwork at 8:10am, shows up at the said neighboring gate to feed the homeless feline. I’ve walked this very path hundreds of times. Every single time if it’s in the morning, without fail, the guardian is there with her canned cat food, little dish, and spoon, feeding the cat. I continue walking past the cat, whose gaze knowingly follows me, head rotating slowly.
Earlier that day, around 7:30am.
I rinse the foam off of my face in the shower, before reaching for the toothbrush, squeezing a pea-sized strip of Italian toothpaste onto the brush, press the “On” button, and do my thing. I’m brushing my teeth, but I’m not really thinking about it. Here’s what is going on in my head:
Meeting starts at 8:30…catch the train at 8:10, as usual. Ugh, I hate rush hour commutes. I need to pick up green cake at the airport before flying out to Shanghai to see the parents, HENCE, I need to put a reminder in my calendar. Reminder in phone calendar, reminder reminder reminder, don’t forget Jeff. Why is this thing still on? I swear it’s been two minutes since I started the toothbrush. Not the red polo again. I only wore that 3 days ago. Wouldn’t want people to think I only have 4 polos. Why do I only wear polos? I need to go shopping. No, I shouldn’t waste money.
The electric toothbrush stops. I rinse my mouth, and finish up in the shower. The day is just beginning.
At the surface, these two events seem utterly unrelated. But are they? Here’s one thing that they have in common: both the cat guardians feeding the stray animals and I are following a routine, a habit. What is habit, exactly? The Oxford Dictionary defines: “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” This isn’t revolutionary stuff – it’s been studied and publicized for centuries, but what I’ve found in the thousands of interactions I’ve had with people throughout life is that people are good at talking about goals, understanding what needs to be done to achieve those goals, but then fail on execution. Dreaming lofty goals is easy because it doesn’t require large investments financially, mentally, or emotionally. Actually taking the steps to achieve these goals on the other hand requires a tremendously high level of consistency.
One simple way to successfully execute and reach a goal, I’ve found, is to form a habit around steps needed to even begin the journey. Do it, repeat it, repeat it again, and then repeat it over and over for about 3 weeks straight without missing a beat. Most people will find that it’s a lot easier to maintain consistency after this 3-week mark. Leading up to this inflection point, the action requires much attention, conscious decision-making, and genuine mental effort. Past the threshold, it begins to feel “easier”, and more like second nature.
Some people are still impressed when they ask me how frequently I visit the gym, and I tell them 5-6 times a week. To me, it’s like brushing my teeth, yet nobody would be surprised if I told them I brush my teeth 14 times a week.