The Eternal Law of Incremental Growth

If offered a choice between taking a) $3 million right now OR b) A pennyworth of money which would double itself each day for next 31 days - what would you choose?
 
Despite financial prudence suggesting otherwise, some may be tempted towards an ‘instant’ benefit of 3 million dollars. If you are opening an excel sheet or dashing for that calculator, let me make it simple for you that option b. gives you upwards of $10.7 million at the end of 31 days.
 
The deeper point to focus on here is the quintessential battle between our mind (“manas”) and intellect (“buddhi”) in every matter of our life - personal or professional. Vedic scriptures tell us that out of the several layers within our mind, the two most important ones are mind, the factory of thoughts, and the intellect, the decision maker. The battle that wagers inside all of us - is between the mind wanting instant gratification (a concept termed “preya” in vedic scriptures) vs. the intellect instead favoring long-term benefits (a concept termed “Shreya”).
 
In our world today, we are repeatedly told and sold “stories” of instant success, fame, and accomplishment. It appears that some people just get "lucky" while we/others continue to toil with no comparable results in sight. The marketing machinery is geared and well-oiled to make one believe in instant results. We all have seen advertisements that claim ‘eat this superfood for 2 days and lose 20 pounds’ or ‘apply this cream and get instant fairness’ etc. Also, the television shows that promote jackpots and lotteries never show the millions of losers but only the testimonials of a numbered few that won. Clearly, a jackpot mentality takes a common person nowhere. As someone once said, ‘one who falls for a jackpot is a crackpot!’
 
Essentially, I want to make a strong argument to you all here: “True, lasting success and fulfillment results primarily from incremental hard work, sacrifice and practice over a sustained and long period of time.” This is an eternal “law” of incremental growth. In other words, one step at a time, you can move towards the ultimate goal – whether material or spiritual.
 
A social scientist, named K. Anders Ericsson, discovered the 10,000 hours of practice rule. In his article on “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” he claims “deliberate practice would allow for repeated experiences in which the individual can attend to the critical aspects of the situation and incrementally improve her or his performance in response to knowledge of results, feedback, or both from a teacher”.
 
To prepare for the 2004 Olympic games, Michael Phelps trained 365 days a year for six years at 6 hours a day. For Christmas, New Year’s and birthdays. Michael worked harder than I’ve seen anybody work in any endeavor. His coach said an excellent performance in any field can be deceiving. The audience often assumes the performer is naturally talented because they make it look easy!  
 
An important point to note here is that most people have a tendency to OVERESTIMATE the change that can be done in a day and also UNDERESTIMATE what a little change every day can do over time.
 
Now, let’s compare this with negative changes and habits: even negative changes are slow! Who does not know that alcohol and cigarettes are not good for health? However, if you imagine for a second that if someone saw an instant negative effect on their body after a drink or that next puff, one would never take it!
 
Another way to think about it is that no person of sane mind would consciously put his hand in the fire as his/her intellect has firmed up the knowledge that fire would burn the hand quickly and the effect is seen instantaneously. However, if we realize that it is the incremental cumulative negative effect of bad habits which impacts us over the long term, it would be easy to give them up. Same incremental law, but in reverse direction (I would call it the law of incremental decline!)
 
So, in essence, our thoughts that arise in the mind and they are decided upon by the intellect become our choices. Those choices when repeated become habits. It would not be wrong to say that we make our choices first, then our choices make us!
 
Ancient Vedic scriptures have given us an ocean of such timeless teachings explaining the inner workings of our own mind, intellect and beyond. Consider this 5000+-year-old Sanskrit verse:

उद्धरेदात्मनात्मानं नात्मानमवसादयेत् |
आत्मैव ह्यात्मनो बन्धुरात्मैव रिपुरात्मन:

The verse says, elevate yourself through the power of your mind, and not degrade yourself, for the mind can be the friend and also the enemy of the self.
 
Once there was a sage living deep in a forest in his ashram. One day, one of his disciples came for a day-visit from a city. The disciple spent the whole day in the sage’s ashram and was planning to return back before night. But, as destiny would have it, the weather got cloudy and it got dark much earlier than planned. In the pitch dark jungle, now the disciple was unsure on how he would go back to the city. He asked the sage for help as it was important for him to return the same day. The sage gave him a lamp that gave light enabling one to see the next five (5) feet. The disciple asked how would this small lamp help him get back in this pitch dark. The sage replied that he should just focus on the next five feet in front of him and put in his effort to walk and as he would finish those five feet, the lamp would allow him to see further five.
 
If we just realize this fact that we all have infinite potential to achieve great things and that potential always manifests with incremental steps we take - the perspective on life can undergo transformative change.
 
For those who follow cricket, Virat Kohli once said that it as a rigorous routine that helped him overcome his demons. “This change has become easy now but it was not so at the beginning. I was batting three hours a day. I had cramps in my forearms by the end of the week. I did that for about 10 days”. Virat goes on to say “You know in golf they say you have to hit a shot 400-500 times before you can perfect that shot. So it was more about precise practice as I wanted to tune my head to play that way. I wasn’t used to forwarding pressing as I was waiting for the ball to clip it off my leg or waiting for the short ball,”
 
Summary and way forward:
 
Little decisions for positive change, repeatedly made, make a big cumulative impact! Do the best you can TODAY, change 1% today and then practice, practice, practice!
 
A personal endnote:
 
I have personally experimented with this and more such eternal laws and have sort of transformed my personal and professional life with yoga, meditation, and spirituality. I can guarantee you that there is more knowledge about the topics of leadership, motivation, success and mind management in our scriptures that one can possibly comprehend in one lifetime! You just have to open your eyes to them and take the first step!
 
Finally, and most importantly, my humble and heartfelt thanks to my spiritual mentor, Swami Mukundananda, ex-IIT and ex-IIM graduate, an expert on mind management, a true yogi and a master of authentic Vedic scriptures. The knowledge mentioned here has only flowered from the sublime teachings of ancient scriptures, bestowed with the causeless grace of Swami Mukundandanda.
 
 About the author:
This article has been written by Ajay Arora, 
an alumnus from PGP Co '09