Can you beat the three impulses?



The story of Gandhiji's three monkeys is very popular. The will to evil is predominant in human beings. So Gandhiji came up with:


See no evil, Speak no evil, Hear no evil.


The well-known picture of the three monkeys depicts the same so vividly. Just like following these three cardinal principles can make life beautiful, there are three impulses to avoid to make life beautiful. Gandhiji's cardinal principles were to beat addiction to evil, these three principles are to beat unnecessary addiction to action.


The impulse to make it big.


This one is a biggie - Ambition. The need to beat your own best record is a natural human tendency, nothing but an innate quest for excellence and self-actualisation. But the need to do something big or yet worse, the need to do something bigger than others or biggest is dysfunctional. Wanting to be the leader in your industry is one such example. It's a wrong thing to have in your mission statement. Besides the other negative fall-outs it brings, this impulse can make a person or an organisation busy like crazy, totally addicted to action.


Hidden beneath this quest to be the first, is the need to compensate for the hollow that one experiences in one's life. A recent survey showed that many of the highly successful industry leaders happened to have a set of characteristics that is very similar to that of psychopaths. These people make it big by working in the outer world to distract themselves from the hollow. They should rather address such a hollow through working upon their inner world.


The impulse to correct


A lot of us have a strong impulse to correct. It manifests in the form of a mother nagging her child, a house-wife obsessed with keeping her home immaculate, a boss micro-managing his subordinate or an activist who is feverish about his cause. As if this child, this home, this employee or this world is not good enough as it is.


The impulse to correct gains ground when we do not see the inherent perfection in things. All the while believing that the perfect state is round the corner, without acknowledging that it is an illusion like a mirage in the desert. This stubbornness to correct oneself, the people around us and the world in general can make us addicted to action.


The impulse to complete


Each of us becomes restless when things are incomplete. There is this interesting story. In the ancient times, there was this very contented man. The whole kingdom appreciated this quality of his, until there came a man who took up the challenge to test this person. One night he went and dropped a bag full of gold coins into his home. This contented man opened this bag with a sense of surprise. It wasn't long until this surprise turned into attachment which turned into a sense of incompleteness - for the simple reason that the bag had exactly 99 gold coins. He got overridden with the desire to make the count 100. It is said that this man worked day and night for the entire next year for that one more coin. Needless to mention that he got caught up in this trap of incompleteness for the rest of his life. This is called the trap of 99.


Each of us has this impulse to complete. We are not at ease with incomplete stuff. Until we check off every item on the to-do list during the day, we do not get a good night's sleep. We have heard that we should not put off until tomorrow that which can be done today. While it can make for very good success advice, it makes for very poor happiness advice.


Putting off until tomorrow that which can be done today can buy you some precious time to spend with your life partner or your kids, or it can give you some latitude to pursue your hobby that you have been postponing for weeks or some elbow room to participate in that civic cause that you have always bypassed owing to too much pre occupation with your list of personal chores. Resist this impulse to necessarily complete the incomplete.


Refraining from each of these impulses can help you become free of compulsive action and establish some work-life balance.

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