One of the most enjoyable things you can do on earth is to be in a bamboo garden.
The beauty of a bamboo garden enthralls the senses. It isn’t just the greenery that is serene, but the mathematical, node-like structure of the plant is aesthetically pleasant to the eyes. The mild rustling of leaves as the gentle breeze blows by is simply therapeutic, adding to the tranquility that you experience.
It’s no wonder that bamboo gardens are popular. The famous Arashiyama grove in Kyoto, Japan, attracts thousands of tourists every year. I was fortunate enough to walk through it in the early hours of a chilly winter day two years ago.
In East Asian culture, the bamboo plant is seen as a symbol of harmony and resilience.
It is incredibly strong – bamboo can survive turbulent storms unlike most other plants. Its entire structure above ground sways with the direction of the wind, facing less resistance than trees with stubborn huge trunks or plants with long cumbersome branches when there’s gale.
Bamboo’s elasticity and flexibility gives a bamboo forest a synergistic feel, creating a ‘one-with-nature’ impression Taoist and Zen philosophy seek to describe.
The bamboo’s strength lies in its root formation. Anyone trying to rid a bamboo cluster can attest to its strong foundation. And you couldn’t just hack the stem off from the ground – you’ve got to remove the entire root base as new shoots will emerge again.
Bamboos have two kinds of root formations:
Note how each stem is connected to an overarching bed or foundation, which gradually creates an overlay among the different stems and shoots, reinforcing one another as the plant grows and ages.
With its top physically lighter relative to the lower structure (which makes its center of gravity lesser than other trees) and a firm reinforcing deep base, the bamboo is a subtle strong plant. Laying a strong foundation in the ground while growing and being in harmony on the surface.
When thinking about this trait of bamboo while tending to my mid-size bamboo plant at home, I realised how undetectable the bamboo’s resilient foundation is. It reminded me of the habits of humans – not easily known, yet deeply ingrained in an individual.
Because they are deeply ingrained, its difficult for you to be aware of them until your peers have observed you long enough. Because your habits lead to actions in your everyday life, they surreptitiously form the bedrock of your routine and lifestyle.
‘Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.‘
Our habits compound into effects in our lives that are unnoticeable on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis.
In other words, to engineer an outcome you desire, you need to work on changing your habits.
Here’s the catch: everyone knows how important habits are. But few actually know how to change them. James Clear provides some clear advice and practical steps in his book which have helped many including myself.
How I went from reading 2 books a year to 40 books a year
Some of you know I read a lot.
However, I wasn’t like this initially. There was a time when I used to find reading a chore. To sit down with a book was the hardest thing to do in this world.
But I wanted to gain knowledge and insights, and to do that I needed to read frequently and widely across various disciplines. However, I’ve always felt that I never had the time and attention to read.
I was frustrated with the lack of progress and forced myself to ‘crash-read’ – locking myself in a room or just spending hours in a library. I even considered taking holidays just to force myself away from the world to read the books I wanted to. But all these efforts failed disastrously.
I would slip back into old habits after feeling ‘forced’ against my own will. People struggling with kicking an addiction will know this resistance.
One day, I decided to write my daily schedule on a piece of napkin to see how I could rearrange my routine and activities to eke out time. I noticed that I have about a total of 20 minutes everyday that could be better used, so I decided to take a baby step in fulfilling my goal.
Everyday I sought to just spend a total of 5 minutes reading. Yes – 5 minutes. Piece-of-cake.
I did this intentionally because I know it’s achievable by my standards and yet long enough to read at least two or three pages of a book. I also chose light books as well to start this habit of reading daily.
Soon, I found it easier than expected and proceeded to reading 10 minutes. Within two months, I was reading about 15 minutes a day without even noticing the difference. Within a year, I was reading almost an hour a day.
In my second year of starting this daily habit, I could read one book per month. The momentum gradually feeds on itself, and these days I can average 40 books per year and remember a majority of everything I read.
Doing this was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I later applied this process to my writing when I started keanchan.com in 2016, and also to my professional career where I built a process around my trading and investing. Now, my new and good habits compound as a new routine and lifestyle takes place that keeps me directed towards my long term goals.
This process could be applied to any outcome that you desire. Whether it’s keeping fit (exercising more, eating properly) or learning something challenging (picking up a foreign language or technical skill), I’ve learned that working on baby steps to create new habits is key to engineer the long term results that I yearn for.
Change your habits to get the results you want
Seeking inspiration and striving to be motivated is great. But it’s the creation of good basic habits, the successful and persistent execution of them, and continued adaptation according to changes in results that matters in the long run.
American motivational speaker Jim Rohn said:
‘Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going‘
Historian Will Durant wrote:
‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit‘
Devise your goal. Pen it down.
Plan out baby steps towards it.
Reform your habits in a gradual manner, and continue to reinforce them. Be sure to make the process as effortless as possible. The goal is not for sudden drastic change, which typically leads to failure and discouragement, but small changes that will inevitably build momentum into bigger changes and reinforcements.
Like the bamboo plant, it pays to be deliberate and purposeful. Let your new habits gradually take root as they build a new foundation. Soon, your new routine and lifestyle will be in harmony with the environment and the results you hope for may bear fruit.