I’ve been traveling the last couple of weeks, and while traveling offers many thought-provoking experiences and opportunities to reflect, it can offer very little time to get those reflections out on a keyboard. So I offer up to you a small thought for the week: I tie my shoes differently now than I did when I was younger. If my experience is any indication of general trends, I tie my shoes differently than much of the population. Whether that’s the case or not, the fact is I changed how I tied my shoes one day.
Changing a long-ingrained habit is not easy. Our brains wire themselves ever more strongly with each passing repetition of a habitual action. Nobody consciously thinks about tying their shoes while they do it—it just happens reflexively. So to change one of these behaviors and re-wire that part of the brain takes a conscious effort, for a while, before the new habit takes the place of the old one.
I changed because it seemed worth it. I had seen a TED talk (see below) in which the speaker explained why a simple change in the sequence of hand motions produced a knot that was more robust and even aesthetically a bit better than the standard knot I was taught to tie. And I thought: I rarely care about how my shoes are tied, except when they come loose. But then again, if making an improvement requires such a small investment of effort, then surely it must be worth it?
If I have avoided two or three episodes of untied laces thanks to my mid-life reprogramming, then I’ve earned back the time it took to re-train myself in this simple skill. But the practice of upending habits and looking everywhere for improvement is an essential feature of the Jailbreak mentality. It is good for the brain, and in making improvements, it is good for life.
In similar fashion, I have in the past re-trained myself away from the QWERTY keyboard layout to the more-efficient Dvorak layout; I’ve changed the entire language of my computer operating system (and the keyboard) while learning another language; a thousand tweaks made to how I handle implements in the kitchen have improved the quality and speed of my cooking. Next up: breaking the tyranny of right-handedness and learning to write excellent script as a leftie.
What ingrained habit have you broken and replaced to make some small part of your life more efficient?