More than zero

A torturous prison sentence. Ascending the ranks of a criminal organisation. Militia-fighting in Afghanistan. Heartache. Happiness. Unforeseen tragedy. These are all part of the journey.

Shantaram is a half-fiction, half-autobiographical novel about an escaped Australian convict who flees to Bombay. It contained, amongst other valuable lessons, one big idea, that weeks after I finished reading, kept returning to me. It originated when I read the following passage.

“Everything you ever sense, in touch or taste or sight or even thought, has an effect on you that’s greater than zero. Some things, like the background sound of a bird chirping as it passes your house in the evening, or a flower glimpsed out of the corner of an eye, have such an infinitesimally small effect that you can’t detect them. Some things, like triumph and heartbreak, and some images, like the image of yourself reflected in the eyes of a man you’ve just stabbed, attach themselves to the secret gallery and they change your life forever.”

The more than zero effect (>0 effect). The proposition that “everything you ever sense, in touch or taste or sight or even thought, has an effect on you that’s greater than zero.” The environment you inhabit has constant, often imperceptible influence over you.

Read that a few times.

Now think about your average day.

What do you do immediately after you get up in the morning? Who’s the first person you see every day and how do you say good morning to them? Do you enjoy your breakfast or inhale it? Do you leave for work with a smile or by dragging your feet? Do you rush through your commute, getting angry at every delay?

How often do you see your friends? How do you resolve conflict? When was the last time you were out of your comfort zone? When was the last time you learned something new and changed your mind? When was the last time you said thank you for everything you have around you? How long since you acknowledged a mistake and said sorry?

Are you surrounded by negative people, or positivity? How much do you complain and moan? What are your habits? Who do you listen to and learn from? What do you read? When do you give help and assistance? Do you give your word and stick to it? Do you listen or talk more? Is every day passed with a swarm of inefficient activity, or composed of effective work? Do you create or merely consume? How do you deal with fear, with anger, with defeat, with trials, with success, with happiness, with good fortune and bad?

Consider the answers.

Our life is made up of days. By contemplating, and sometimes, choosing to alter the impact and salience of everyday events, we don’t just change a day, we can change our lives.

To illustrate the >0 effect in action, consider the words of Lao Tzu.

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”