I'm fairly certain I washed twice this morning while in the shower, but to be honest, I'm not sure.
I hopped in the shower and did my normal thing: think about the project I was just working on while washing up. Somewhere in the middle I noticed a fly was sitting on the window sill. Curious if it was alive, I splashed water on it.
It was! The hunt was on!
Using my ninja like reflexes I cornered the fly and gave him a swift ending. Proud of myself I grabbed my shampoo and started washing my hair... wait... it already felt foamy... Or did I just squeeze out to much soap in my proud mental state?
Confused I looked at my body... no soap...
I looked at my wash cloth and bar of soap... clearly wet from recent use... strange...
Now I really started questioning myself... Just how far did I get in the washing process? I remember soaping up my wash cloth. I remember washing my arms... But that's it. Did I really just wash my upper half? How long have I been in here? Suddenly my legs felt grimy... What is my mind doing to me?!
This happens all the time, and not just while in the shower. We start down a familiar path and put things on autopilot. Ever try running an errand while driving home from work to only find yourself suddenly at home kicking yourself for forgetting to run the errand? That's autopilot.
In a lot of ways this is a good thing. If our minds didn't adapt to regular activities, we would have less brain power to tackle difficult questions and exercise creativity. In psychology that's known as being a cognitive miser: our minds find different ways to save time and effort while going through the day.
Driving and showering are just two examples of habits. There are many, many more habits we have that just happen automatically without us consciously thinking about it.
- We might walk the same path every time we go out (I know this because my dog knows exactly which roads to turn on... Oh yeah, I guess we do turn here each time. At one time that was a purposeful decision, but not anymore)
- We might eat a snack every day when we get home. We eat the same amount of food, or at the same time.
- We might spend impulsively at the checkout counter.
- I was just reminded that if I set my alarm for the same time every day for 30 days, I'll automatically start waking up at that time even without an alarm.
The interesting thought for me today is: What happens when you get knocked off of autopilot? Especially once you get over your disorientation (Wait! Where am I?).
Do you just go back to soaping up as normal? Or do you take the opportunity to make sure what you're doing is actually the right thing?
For showers it's probably not a big deal. For impulse spending, that can add up to something huge. Same with snacking. My encouragement today is to allow yourself to get knocked off of autopilot, and when you do, to take the 20 seconds to ask yourself if what you're doing is the right behavior. See what new path that leads you down.
For some inspiration, here's a trailer of the movie Yes Man with Jim Carrey. The idea is that he purposefully got out of his habit of saying no to everything. As you would guess, it's gets funny fast.
You clearly don't need to be this extreme, but I genuinely believe that it's worth taking the time to re-evaluate your habits when you suddenly realize your in the middle of autopilot. When that happens, try something new and see what happens.