Ningas Cogon Mentality: Filipino Disappointing Trait

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Ningas Cogon mentality is a lack of sustained perseverance. Just like a wildfire burning out quickly.

Filipino’s are known for tremendous hospitality, generosity, and different cultures yet some cultural trait are toxic. One of the Filipino toxic traits is “Ningas Cogon”.  

It is a very common value that most Filipino carriers. But what does the term really mean? And where did it come from? How does it actually occur in Filipino culture, and why?

Allow me to dissect what the phrase means: ningas means “in flame”, it could also be a “spark” that could eventually turn into fire, something that could also be “burning”. There are many ways of interpreting it but, basically, those are the straight-out meaning in English as they are in Tagalog and of course if you come from a different province in the Philippines, the word might have a contrasting significance.

But for purposes of understanding, we shall make use of how it is commonly understood. Going to the ‘kugon’ – it actually refers to a tall, perennial grass used in thatching. Etymologically, the English word ‘cogon’ is from the Spanish cogón, while in Tagalog, it is expressed and spelled as ‘kugon’. The two words put together are “flaming cogon grass”.

What is the ningas cogon mentality?

Ningas-kugon is lack sustained perseverance. It also means a tendency among individuals to start a new venture or task with too much enthusiasm and effort, but after some time will take a pause or will suddenly stop working, until such time that they lose interest in the venture or task. Leaving things incomplete. Just like a wildfire burning out quickly.

This is the total opposite of the 20:80 rule, wherein certain targets could be accomplished by exerting 20 percent of the effort to achieve 80 percent of the expected outputs.

In many parts of the Philippines, wildfires commonly occur in fields dominated by cogon grass. However, such wildfires never reach the disaster level since Cogon grass are known to easily catch fire, but are not good at sustaining it for longer periods of time.

Ningas Cogon mentality - new year resolution

Ningas Cogon Mentality: Filipino  Disappointing Trait

As a Filipino cultural trait, it refers to the Filipino cultural trait of enthusiastically starting things, but then quickly losing enthusiasm soon after. So if you try to lit up a ‘cogon’ you would observe how it will just burn into flames and poof… gone afterward. So the metaphor “ningas cogon” was coined to mean projects, promises, or decisions that were started on a high note but immediately stopped or were left unfinished. An example is a new year’s resolution. How long will you keep it? 

Ningas Cogon Mentality is everywhere

Yes, ningas cogon mentality is found everywhere. It is not a bad trait monopolized by publicity-seeking politicians. Look around, you’d notice this also applies to clubs, organizations, and associations – school, civic, religious, business, professional, social, cooperative. And it afflicts the organization when it is most vulnerable, that is, newly-formed and experiencing birth pains. In most cases, we embark on new, bold, well-meaning projects. Usually with lofty goals and more responsibilities than we can handle.

Believe it or not, when it comes to planning activities and programs the government and business execs are more pragmatic. They usually list down no more than five goals or objectives, each accompanied by detailed action steps and assigning the person or group responsible for carrying it out.

Maybe it comes with the first-hand experience of organizing with limited time and resources or from being results-oriented (if government programs appear ill-planned it is usually because the desired results are only to look good). Those who have achieved a degree of maturity are also less likely to succumb to ningas cogon mentality.

Ningas Cogon mentaliy -Unfinished EDSA project
Unfinished EDSA footbridge project making commuters dizzy

What the other groups lack in experience for organizing, they make up for in enthusiasm and sincerity. But no one can run a good program on enthusiasm and sincerity. They certainly are not lacking in good ideas and good intentions. My boss has his own quote for good ideas. “They’re worth a peso,” he declared, “but a plan to implement that idea is worth a million.” This is where many group efforts often fall flat.

In short, that cultural trait has been attributed to the Filipinos for years and somewhere along the years, it appears that Filipinos themselves – not all but some – have admitted or even owned, such a character trait. The reality though is different because we know full well that we are much more than what that preconceived attributions say of Filipinos than what we actually are. It is a negative connotation which we ourselves have proven to be a mere attribution outside of the fact.

Ningas Cogon negative effects in life?

  • You won’t be able to finish everything on time.
  • You will always be cramming and might have unwanted results and unbearable mistakes because of hurrying.
  • You might become lazy and unreliable and people will see these as a hindrance to connecting with you.
  • You’re bound to waste material, efforts, and time.

How to overcome Ningas Cogon Mentality?

  • Give and accept more compliments and encouragements – this is to avoid hopelessness, rather gives strength and enthusiasm to finish what has been started.
  • Avoid starting a goal/project if you know you know in yourself that you cannot finish it.
  • Be aware of the consequences of ningas cogon mentality and reflect on these.
  • Ask help from somebody else, that way the work will be easier and there will be lesser chances of not finishing it.
  • Make it a point that finishing what you started will reflect who you are and what you have achieved.

Efficiency and effectiveness would be possible if we have the right attitude emanating from our hearts. Hence, the remaining 80 percent of the time and efforts that will be devoted to polishing a particular task or activity shall be enough to achieve an excellent performance. Of course, planning is a crucial and key element for this rule.

Performing in full capacity and maintaining it are two different beasts. One thing is for sure, we need both. We need both to help ourselves eliminate the “ningas-cogon” that’s killing our success and keep that flame burning.

Why not book a Manila City Tour? Explore and discover things around Manila. Your tour kicks off from the financial district of Makati including Fort Bonifacio and the American Cemetery, then moves on to the country’s capital, Manila. There, you will first go for a brief picture stop at Rizal Park, in honor of the country’s national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. Then, you will go to the historic Walled City of Intramuros where you will travel through the cobbled streets of San Agustin Church, the country’s oldest stone church, to view its wide collection of ecclesiastical icons, vestments, and other religious articles.


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