The simple answer to that question is – volumes! Yes, your knitting says volumes about you. I realized this recently when I saw my mother knitting. My mum knits fast and – in her own words – doesn’t mind if things get fudged up a little here and there. She often loses stitches between rows but manages to muddle through the knitting. The end product usually looks good and unless you inspect it really closely, you won’t find anything amiss.
I, on the other hand, am not very good at fudging and muddling. If I see a mistake or notice that I’ve lost a few stitches, I can’t just go on knitting. I have tried to do that a few times – but invariably, I unravel my work, fix my mistake and then start knitting all over again. The whole process can take hours and I’ve often driven myself mad by knitting and unraveling my work many times over. My end product (without the so-called mistake) is usually very similar to that of my mother’s. In fact, if our knitted pieces were kept side by side, you would probably never be able to tell the difference between them. The only person who gets bothered with the mistake is me and until I’ve fixed it, there is no peace.
So what does my knitting style say about me? What does my mum’s style say about her? I am tempted to say that I behave this way because I’m a perfectionist. But I’m no more a perfectionist than my mum is someone who leaves things half done. In fact, as a practice, whatever activity my mum undertakes, she does it with all her heart – be it medicine, motherhood, reading, dancing, singing, painting, even knitting. So if mine is not a case of perfectionism, then what is it? The answer is actually pretty simple and lies in my thought and behavior patterns. Unlike my mother, my brain has become programmed to focus on mistakes rather than the end product. But my mum, who thinks very differently, is able to see the larger picture, which is why she is largely happy and content with everything she does.
These thoughts and behaviour patterns which have become programmed in my brain are what govern and will continue to govern (unless I change them) all my actions. The important question is how do these patterns come into existence in the first place. This was explained to me very simply by a therapist many years ago. She asked me to imagine myself speaking in front of a group of 100 people, where 99 people were listening in rapt attention and 1 person was yawning. She said that if I only saw the 99 people who were hanging on my every word, I would probably think that I’m a great speaker and would feel confident of speaking in public in future. However, if I only saw the 1 person who was yawning instead of the 99 attentive people, I could possibly think that my speech was boring or that I’m a bad public speaker. The downside of such a thought could be that the next time an occasion arose requiring me to speak in public, I’d probably recall this incident and hesitate to go on stage. With time – and if left unaddressed – my hesitation and fear would probably worsen until such time when even the thought of speaking in public would make me break out in cold sweat. Such a high price to pay for one person’s yawn!
For most of us, a lot of our negative thoughts and behaviour can be explained this way – some experience in the past which has programmed the behaviour in our brain. The question is how does this programming happen. The answer to that lies in the science of the brain or neuroscience. Without making it too technical, let me just tell you that all your movements, senses, thoughts, and memories are a result of cells of the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves which are called Neurons. When the neurons in your brain fire, your body gets a signal to produce an action – so all your actions and reactions are a result of the millions of neurons firing in your brain. Over time, these neurons create fixed neural pathways, which in turn result in the creation of habits or behaviour. These neural pathways ensure that when faced with the same stimuli, your actions remain the same. As an example, imagine that you have been taking the same route home from work everyday for the last 3 months. Today, you may decide to take a different route home, but if you don’t pay attention or let your mind wander while driving, you are likely to find yourself on your old route again because that is the way you have become programmed. Your brain works in a similar way – neurons will always take the same fixed paths that they are used to, until and unless conscious thought and effort is put to change them.
Now when we are young, it’s quite easy to alter neural pathways because our brains are still quite malleable which is why children easily adapt to change. But after the age of 25, our brains start to solidify and altering thought and behavior patterns (and neural pathways) becomes increasingly difficult. Then what is an adult like me supposed to do? There are studies which now tell us that by following some simple practices regularly, even adults can alter their neural pathways and form new habits and thought processes. I read a lot of books and articles on this and have boiled it all down to the RSVP formula (of my own invention, mind you!). For your benefit, I am unveiling it here for the first time ever –
RECOGNIZE the unhelpful thought and negative behavior patterns and the triggers that cause them.
SIT UP AND PAY ATTENTION so that you don’t lapse into old habits because your brain likes to take its usual easy path.
VISUALIZE how changing your behaviour will help you and improve your life.
PRACTICE LIKE HELL because that is the only way for your brain to rewire itself enough to adopt a new habit or behaviour.
This topic is too vast and complex for an amateur like me to explain properly, nor can I do it justice in just one post even if I try to explain it. I simply wanted to introduce the subject to tell you that we can all hope to lead happier lives by breaking the thought and behavior patterns that pull us down. It’s just a matter of bringing conscious change and sticking to it until it becomes second nature. I know it isn’t simple. But the result will be worth the effort. And no one has said that you have to do it all at once or do it all alone. Start small, pat yourself on the back every time you take a step forward, ask for help from a friend or family member, stick to it even when you stumble. I repeat, the result will be worth the effort!
I’m also trying very hard to not sweat the small stuff and to see the bigger picture. I’m sure there will come a day when I would’ve knitted something till the end without having unraveled it even once. Till then, I have no option but to watch my mother race through her knitting projects. More power to her and her kind!