Practice, practice, practice

The famous Spartan warriors had a credo for their war – “Sweat more in practice, bleed less in war“. Practice is probably the greatest thing humans can do, yet people ridicule it.

For every new thing or an idea that has been brought into the world, people have laughed at it, criticized it, and ridiculed it at the beginning. As the famous quote wrongly misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi goes, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

This quote is a summary of Nichoas Klein, an American labor union advocate and attorney, who gave a speech to the Clothing Workers in May 1919, where he said the following:

[…] And my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. And I say, courage to the strikers, and courage to the delegates, because great times are coming, stressful days are here, and I hope your hearts will be strong, and I hope you will be one hundred per cent union when it comes!

This ridiculing of new thoughts and ideas goes way back in our human civilization. Back when we humans didn’t know earth revolves around the sun, the accepted norm was a geocentric approach – which states that our Earth is at the center of the Universe. Even great philosopher and thinker like Aristotle was in favor of geocentric approach.

When Aristarchus of Samos presented the first known heliocentric approach that placed the Sun at the center of the known universe, with the Earth revolving around the Sun once a year and rotating about its axis once a day, it was met with rejections in favor of geocentric theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy.

In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish mathematician and astronomer, formulated a model fo the Universe that placed the Sun rather than Earth at its center. However, he was not certain if he wanted to publish his book containing this fact because of his concerns about possible astronomical and philosophical objections and/or religious objections.

However, in the 17th century, Galileo Galilei presented supporting observations about Copernican heliocentrism (Earth rotating daily and revolving around the Sun) using a telescope. This was – again – met with opposition from within the Catholic Church. The Roman Inquisition concluded that heliocentrism was foolish, absurd, and heretical since it contradicted Holy Scripture. Later on, Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy” by the Inquisition, and thus had to spend the rest of his life under house arrest.

Long before the geocentric theories of Aristotle, the great philosopher Socrates was also executed by forced suicide by poisoning, because he was accused of corrupting the youth and failing to acknowledge the city’s official gods. In 399 BC, his trial lasted a day, and was sentenced to death for his radical thoughts and ideas.

In a world full of ridiculing, why should we practice?

Let us first go back to the time, when ancient humans discovered fire.

Although the direct evidence is scarce, claims for the earliest definitive evidence of control of fire by a member of Homo ranges from 1.7 to 2.0 million years ago. Evidence for the “microscopic traces of wood ash” as controlled use of fire by Homo-erectus, beginning some 1,000,000 years ago, has wide scholarly support [a].

A diorama depicting hominins igniting fire inside a cave from the National Museum of Mongolian History, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

In a review for the Royal Society Philosophical Transactions B, J.A.J. Gowlett hypothesizes that hominins took advantage of natural wildfires for foraging. It is difficult to follow the development of human control over fire because of what Gowlett calls its “disappearing act.” Fire isn’t as well preserved in the archeological record as, say, middens or flint tools. And progress was incremental, with fire control being learned in different places at different times. Certain archeological sites have proffered a bounty of stone tools, suggesting long-term quartering. Such occupancy could mean hominins learned to at least maintain fire as far back as 2.5 million years ago. But direct evidence is scarce [b].

So what happened after we discovered fire?

The cooking hypothesis, proposed by Richard Wrangham, Ruth B. Moore, Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard, claims that fire allowed us to cook our food – making cooked meats easier to chew and digest; and as a result, our bodies could extract more nutrients form the same amount of meat. Wrangham argues that the ability to create cooked foods shaped the brains and bodies of our Homo ancestors. Larger brains allowed us to process more information, create more dynamic social groups, and adjust to unfamiliar habitats. All of which benefited us evolutionarily [b].

Cooking can be thought of as “pre-digesting.” Because we’ve already broken down much of the food by cooking, the calorie absorption process becomes more efficient than if the food had been raw, and requires that we put in a significant amount of energy to just digest. The use of fire to prepare food paved the way for the evolution of organisms that could support significantly larger brains [c].

The expansion of the brain, seen in fossils from different branches of our family tree, may have been aided by fire, first used at least a million years ago. NMNH, SI

Thus, we are where we are now because of practice.


Imagine a scenario – one of the ancient homo species discovered fire and showed it to his close group. He may have been ridiculed, laughed at, or may even have been accused of creating something dangerous and potentially destroying weapon! But had that one homo species given up, and left the practice to discover fire and educate more species, we would probably not have evolved so much as we have now.

Practice enabled humans to discover fire. With fire, humans were able to consume cooked foods. This allowed our body and brain to gain valuable nutrients required for our continuous development. Darwin himself considered language and fire as the two most significant achievements of humanity [d].

So how do you build habit of practice?

Step 1: Shut up and show up.

As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, say – shut up and show up. Showing up is the first step towards practice and building long term habits. No matter what, show up. Take that first step.

Step 2: Know the environment.

Our environment also plays a vital role in building any habit of practice. If the people around us talk about football all the time, we are bound to watch football – because as humans, we are wired to comply with social groups. If people around us are appreciative and supportive enough, we tend to take the step we never thought we could take. The safety net from our environment really helps in taking new strides. If people around us aren’t supportive, maybe we need to change our environment around us.

Step 3: Use visual cues.

Small wins are massive motivators, but we rarely recognize them. Having a small win, and assigning a visual cue to it is important in any practice. Visual stimulus is important. It makes us stick with good habits. The visual cues act as a reward system for us to continue practicing. A small ‘tick’ on our calendar or marking done in our to-do list are all examples of visual cues working with our brain to reinforce our habit of practicing.

A constant reminder for myself to practice comes from my name itself – Prayas, meaning ‘try’. Let’s give it a try. Let’s take the first step.

And let’s keep practicing.

Also read: Awareness & Courage – And how to “Practice” it

Understanding Coexistence

To exist is to live. To coexist is to live together. No nonsense, simple as that.

Often in ecology, coexistence results when population of several species depending upon the limited resources manage to exist together in harmony. But this theory of coexistence comes in contradiction with the competitive exclusion principle, which states that complete competitors cannot coexist.

Competitive Exclusion Principle & Paradox of Planktons

In ecology, competitive exclusion principle tells us that two species competing for the limited resources cannot coexist at constant population values. This comes in line with Darwin’s principle of Natural Selection, or more easily known as “Survival of the Fittest“. This principle describes the belief that only those species with a strong desire to succeed and the ability to change as conditions change will survive the long run.

However, there is one big exception to this ecology’s theory – “The Paradox of the Plankton“. It describes the situation in which a limited range of resources supports an unexpectedly wide range of plankton species, contrary to the competitive exclusion principle. Planktons (particularly the phytoplankton), even though competing for the same resources, are still diverse at all phylogenetic levels.

This gives us an understanding that if we – human beings – can use our conscience and rationality, we can coexist in peace and harmony as well.

Coexistence in Humans

We are told each human being is different, and it is true as well. We are all different at various levels. We are different by outlook, thoughts, habits, ideology, personality, talents and so on. This is where we compete on. We try to look better than others, think critically than others, establish better habits, and leverage our talents in a different way than others.

However, in between these competition, we tend to influence and impose our ideology on others while completely discarding theirs. This is where we cease to coexist.

As a “superior” living beings, we humans can share resources for the survival of many. Charity, donations, aids, and grants have been an important culture within humanitarian sectors. This principle of sharing comes from understanding and realizing the need of others, and sacrificing something of our own for others. It is the same with perceptions, too.

Differing Perceptions – A Workshop Story

On the very first day of my session for post graduation students going for internships, I took a bottle of water and placed it on the floor. I asked all the participants to share their first thought upon seeing the water bottle on the floor. Different answers came up – from guessing the brand of the mineral water bottle to the banal half-full & half-empty outlook. But the point was to tell them how each and everyone of them were right. There were multiple rights, and no wrongs. It was each of their perception speaking out loud in their thoughts.

When we see anything, our neural pathways send signals to our brain. This transmission could follow any route among the 100 trillion neural connections in our brain. It is not absolutely necessary for two people’s brain to have the same pathway. This is why our perception towards same things are different – because the neural pathways are different.

Read more: Conscious & Empathic Listening

Human Coexistence

Unless we learn to respect others’ pathway, we won’t learn to coexist. The path to coexist won’t open up.

We all have different thought, opinions, ideologies, experiences, knowledge. These shapes our lifestyle, our worldview, and our outlook on life. We might come across to a completely differing worldview than ours. In such case, think, “They and I have different pathways, and their pathway is as exhilarating to them as my pathway is for me.” This one sentence can help us accept a different worldview rather than influencing and imposing our worldview on others.

Coexistence is all about “we both have different worldview towards the same thing/event/person. Let’s live in harmony by respecting each others’ worldview.

It’s only when we get ready to assassinate others’ worldview, coexistence becomes extinct.

Lazy Humans & Principle of Least Effort

Why do people just leave their partners in relationship rather than working and solving the differences? Why do people make excuses rather than taking accountability of their own works? Why do people assume things rather than communicating and comprehending? Turns out, the answer to all these human behaviors can be explained by one profound law – “The Principle of Least Effort“, among other possible factors.

What is Principle of Least Effort?

In 2004, Zao Liu and Zheng Ye (Lan) Yang conducted a study to understand the Texas A&M distance learning graduate students’ preference for seeking library resources, and the reason behind those preferences. The conclusion found that – no brainer – the Internet was the most used, while libraries were the next most used resource for conducting class research. The study found that the Principle of Least Effort was the primary behavior model of the most distance learning students, because of their strong preference towards easy and fast information retrieval.

This is what Principle of Least Effort is all about. In pursuit of reaching from point A to point B, humans will mostly choose the path where the least effort is required.

Principle of Least Effort

In this image, the desired path – the trail created on the grass – reflects best about this behavior of humans. Even though there doesn’t seem to be significant time saving while going by or around the pole stuck in the middle of the walking path, humans will evidently choose to go diagonal and walk forward and take a 90-degree turn (well, thanks to Pythagoras too!).

Human Behavior & Principle of Least Effort

So how does this Principle of Least Effort reflect in human behaviors?

Known as a “deterministic description of human behavior”, this principle applies largely on day to day human behaviors. As long as the work gets done or the result is achieved, humans will resort to using least of their efforts.

For instance, when we would need a certain clarification about our new diet plans, we would want to reach out and ask a dietician specialist. However, if we have someone generalist nutritionist nearby us, we would prefer to consult the generalist near to us than reaching out to the specialist three blocks away, as long as the generalist’s answers are within the threshold of acceptability.

Similarly, let’s say we want to listen to one of our favorite songs. Rather than reaching to our phone, unlocking it, opening the music app, searching for the song and then playing it, a lot easier work would be to summon Siri (or any other voice assistant) and ask it to play the song. The result is the same – the favorite song is played, but the steps and efforts to reach it is drastically different.

Ever wondered why the language has changed to chat vocabulary? “I’m rolling on the floor laughing” has become “ROFL“, “want to” has become “wanna“, “going to” has become “gonna“, “mathematics” has become “math“, “airplane” has become “plane“, and even “vocabulary” has become “vocab“. These language changes are also explained by the same principle, because speakers simplify their speech in various ways.

I’ve heard people claim they downloaded an app to turn off their TV while they were comfortably warm on their bed rather than getting up and looking for the TV’s actual remote. Genius! Result achieved with minimal effort – i.e. Principle of Least Effort.

Using Principle of Least Effort to our Advantage

Understanding this principle tells why people seem like they’re lazy, while they’re not actually lazy. They merely do things that are considered or labeled as lazy.

Let’s understand, our brains need energy to run. Computers are powered by either AC or DC current, while automobiles are powered by petrol, diesel, or electricity. Unlike these machines, our brains don’t have those sources of current to power on. Our brain is dependent on sugar as its main fuel. Glucose, a form of sugar, is the primary source of energy for every cell in the body. Because the brain is so rich in nerve cells, or neurons, it is the most energy-demanding organ, using one-half of all the sugar energy in the body.

Therefore, our brains need to conserve energy, and it does so by achieving results and getting work done with lowest possible efforts. If you remember why you felt drained and fatigue by focusing on those numbers and spreadsheets for one hour, this is because your brain used up a lot of energy.

Also Read: Rakhi Celebrations: From Behavioral Lens

This principle can be particularly used in change management, by making change easy for people to adopt to. By making changes easy to adopt to, we can expect less resistance and more acceptance. These changes could be anything – changing habits, changing organizational culture, or even changing design of a product.

Tania Luna and Jordan Cohen – in their HBR article – talk about this principle of least effort with the help of “The Banana Principle“, where by in an office meeting, bananas always are consumed first, and oranges at last. Although it’s not that bananas are objectively more delicious than oranges, the bananas nick their win with one simple feature – they’re easy to peel.

So, when you opt for any major or minor changes in your personal or professional life, keep the Principle of Least Effort in mind. Given several paths to the same destination, we pick the easiest. Consequentially, what we need to think more about is finding ways to make positive changes with least effort, and negative changes more effortful. Remove barriers of efforts for positive behavioral changes, and add more barriers of efforts for negative ones.