We have seen this quite often. We love a certain brand of chocolate dearly. Let’s call it Toffee X. Over the years, the taste of the Toffee X changes gradually until one day we feel that the chocolate is tasteless. We try to reason it as a natural change of taste associated with growing up. But no! Your friends say the same thing. Well, they have grown up too. But no! The kids in your block say that Toffee X isn’t a tasty chocolate at all. They wonder why their parents were hyping it so much!
After poking around, you find that the makers of Toffee X did indeed change the taste. To cut costs, they kept cutting back on certain ingredients. The amount of cardamom was halved, butter was replaced with margarine, the size went down by a third and they used refined sugar instead of honey. From being the market #1, they are now just also-rans. This is a typical example of a work of masterpiece degrading over time and dying a slow death due to short-sightedness and lack of commitment and cutting corners as a result.
The slowly acting poison
What is funny is that we do not notice the change in Toffee X in a day. We continue to like it until upto a year. Then we notice some change, but ignore it. But 3 long years later, we definitely don’t like Toffee X at all. Hypothetically, if you were to get to taste a Toffee X from three years ago, you may probably notice the drastic change in both taste and size.
While a test across three years is not possible in the chocolate industry, you can definitely do it for long-lasting objects. A good example would be office spaces. Earlier, offices had several windows for ventilation. Then the windows were scaled back or covered with glass to make way for central air conditioning. While you’d not notice much if you were to work everyday in a centrally air-conditioned office space, a single visit to an airy large-windowed edifice and then back to your enclosed space will reveal just how stale the air inside your office feels. Since our transition from airy school classrooms to air-conditioned offices happened over several years, with slow transitions over the years, we accepted centrally air-conditioned rooms as the new normal. But if we then visit an airy space, we get our perspective back and suddenly start hating the pathetic ventilation and the gloomy feel of air-conditioned rooms.
Short-sightedness and lack of commitment
As mentioned in my intro, two reasons cause a slow degradation. For the chocolate maker, it is the short-sightedness. To earn more profit by pinching expenses, the chocolate maker scaled back on the chocolate’s size and ingredients. However, in the long run, the most ardent patrons started disliking the chocolates. A short-sighted objective of increasing profits by cutting expenses superseded a long-term commitment to quality. In case of the glass buildings, a short-term objective to maintain temperature inside the office superseded a long-term commitment to keep buildings naturally airy and more environmentally friendly.
One more reason, lack of commitment, makes us diverge from our discipline and set on a path of degradation. Think of the time when you committed to a coffee detox. Then a particularly nerve-wracking day causes you to drink half a cup of coffee. You think that half a cup is okay and continue to drink it for another week. Then you find that half a cup is not enough.Withdrawal symptoms cause frequent headaches and you increase your uptake. Then suddenly one find day, you are having the same amount of coffee as you did before your detox promise.
We do this with several habits, such as writing, exercise, eating healthy food and several others.
How I let it slip
I too faced a lapse with regards to my body. Born skinny and fussy with eating, I was always underweight. However a stint with strength training exercises between ages 15 to 22 saw me build a muscular body. I was still underweight, but all my clothes fit me perfectly and I no longer looked like a dressed skeleton. Then life happened and I worked in a busy job at a startup, going home between 10 – 11 pm every night. Gymming was pushed aside. However, I gave myself excuses to eat unhealthy. Working at Mumbai gives one access to a lot of junk food and I used them as comfort food to beat stress at work. Losing my commitment to keep a healthy muscular body, I let short-term goals such as beating stress to gorge on food even when I wasn’t necessarily hungry.
Since I was looking at myself in the mirror every day, I didn’t realise the gradual growth in my girth. I was slowly bloating myself overweight. But those who looked at me after several months or years always commented about my weight gain in shock. It was only one fine day when I looked at two photos of myself taken 4 years apart that I realised what I had done to myself.
Fortunately, I worked to drop all the added weight and fat and am underweight again.
How to stem a decay
While a decay is happening slowly, it is nearly impossible to detect it. Typically, the only way to gain perspective is to keep a reminder of when things were at their best.
Want to keep your chocolate tasty? Always keep with you the recipe of the time when the taste was at its best. If you ever stray from that peak, you have beacon to guide you back. Keep a photo of when you were at the best of your health. This will remind of when you were looking and feeling your best and put your commitment to exercise and eat well back on track. Did you win any prizes in tennis? Not feeling like getting up lately for practice? Maybe placing the award by your bedside will remind you that it was your morning practice that won you the award and that you shouldn’t be shirking your practice by sleeping in.
A long-term commitment can easily derail with the passage of time as your life and priorities change. If the decay is gradual, it is extremely hard to spot and you may not notice that you are wide adrift. But putting up a reminder of the time when your commitment won you rich rewards will re-orient your perspective and get you back on track again.