Jen, a teenage girl, was with her friends in a hostel room, celebrating the end of the semester. Patty, her BFF, gave her a cigarette. “I don’t want to smoke,” was Jen’s firm reply. But, all her friends insisted that she try it at least once. To avoid fear of losing their friendship, Jen smoked her first cigarette. “It is not that bad,” exclaimed Jen. “Can I have one more?” That’s how it started. Her fondness for smoking continued for 20 years until one fateful day. “I am sorry,” the doctor told Jen while reading her biopsy report. She had a lung cancer. The world melted down in front this single mother of two beautiful girls. She was aghast and screamed, “Why did I smoke that day?”

Jim was a spoiled only-child, thanks to doting parents. He never liked vegetables. The mere mention of the word nauseated him. Expectedly, his parents never persuaded him to eat vegetables. He loved French fries, which were part of his daily diet. If he didn’t get them, he threw tantrums. The cumulative effect of eating French fries took its toll and now 24-year-old Jim is suffering from severe heart ailments. Now he eats steamed vegetables daily, which he loathed most while growing up. He is not even allowed to utter “French fries”.

Both these episodes, Jen’s like for cigarettes and Jim’s dislike for vegetables, started innocuously. Since the day you are born, you are constantly collecting likes and dislikes and storing them in your invisible backpack. This behavior is encouraged by your parents, partners, and friends. How many times a day do we say the following?

“I like it.

I don’t like it.

I like the way you look.

I don’t like the weather.

I don’t appreciate the way she behaved with me.

I detest this horrible traffic.”

The list goes on and on. Likes and dislikes are your best friends. But, are they true friends? Is this an ideal way to live your life?

An ideal life is when you choose your action based on reason, not just impulsive emotions of likes and dislikes. The mind is often compared to a monkey. A monkey jumps from one branch to another, or he scratches himself while sitting at the same place. Similarly, either you move from one thought to another or worry about the past and get anxious about the future with the same thought. It is generally accepted that humans have 45,000 daily thoughts and 75% of those thoughts are negative. Living a life based on impulsive emotions which have no direction and dimension is like living a life of a monkey who is never at peace.

When you go by likes and dislikes you never question if that’s the right thing to do. You just carry on with unsupervised emotion. The problem is that your likes and dislikes are constant but not the people and environment around you. There is a constant friction between your life and the world. This friction causes stress and agitation.

The solution lies in applying your thoughts rationally. The starting point is understanding our thoughts. Your thought is made up of two constituents: mind and intellect.

Mind is the source of emotions: love, anger, kindness, greed, envy, and jealousy. It is the flood of emotion which makes you do things you regret later. Like a monkey you are always fidgety. You are never at the present, because of the mind. To prove this, ask yourself how many times you thought about unrelated topics up to now while reading this article. It’s like a child who does not sit at one place.

Intellect is our capacity to reason and make a choice of action. It’s the aspect of your personality which does not let you make an impulsive decision. It’s that capacity which makes you think. The outcome of using intellect is scientific inventions. Do you know any classmates of Albert Einstein? No, because although all of them had the same education, it was only Einstein who challenged the status quo. It’s the intellect which caused building of organizations like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Uber, etc. The common factor among all is their founders did not accept the status quo.

How do you apply intellect to win over your deadly friends (enemies): likes and dislikes?

The intellect sharpens the objectivity skills in you. You are objective when you do what ought to be done, not what you feel like. One great example of objectivity is Miracle on the Hudson.

On a chilly winter morning of January15 ,2009 a US flight was going to Charlotte from LaGuardia airport. Three minutes into the flight, at an approximate altitude of 2,800 feet, a flock of birds struck the plane, disabling both engines. The pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger had two options. Firstly, figure out a way to land in a nearby airport, and secondly land the airplane on the Hudson River. Before this incident happened if any pilot were given a choice, the person would have chosen the option to land in a nearby airport. But Sully applied his intellect and responded to land the aircraft on the river saving every passenger and crew.

How do you develop intellect?

A. Parthasarathy in his book, “The Fall in the Human Intellect” suggested there are two ways to develop intellect: Never take anything for granted and question everything. Let’s apply this principle in the examples shared at the beginning.

If Jen would have said no to the cigarette, overriding her emotions as deep down she knew cigarettes cause cancer, she would have been a happy and healthy mother vacationing in Europe with her family now.

Jim’s parents would have been soft but firm by telling Jim, “Darling you need to have vegetables, as it’s good for your health. Look, we are also eating with you too. We will have burgers and French fries on Sunday.” That decision would have led to Jim practicing good food habits and now he can eat anything/anywhere.

“Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.” — is a great Greek saying.

It’s time to break up with your best friends — likes and dislikes, and live a stress-free life.