Tuesday, April 22, 2008

About automatic pilot

Yesterday we -- me and Michelle -- were going out to lunch. We were headed to Taco Bell and talking away, she having been at a conference all last week, so lots of stuff to report.

In a pause in the conversation I realized I was heading to the wrong place--I was on automatic pilot. I'd made the turn into Wal-mart, just in back of Taco Bell, without thinking.

There's the operative phrase: no thinking!

I yell at Greg all the time for this same behavior -- he tends to want to drive to work if we're going anyway in that direction -- and now I'm going to remind myself to shut up: our brains love the lull of habit.

But it got me thinking, in what other ways do habits shape our days?

I know my mornings at home at totally habit-ized; not being a morning person, and near comatose for about an hour after arising, doing the same thing every day leaves my mind free for the task of waking up: get up, turn on NPR, rest room, feed cat, iron clothes, shower, get dressed, makeup, pack lunch/snack, leave.

I'm suspecting that as you get older, one's habits get more ingrained, even to the point of being etched in granite. Note to self: avoid that!

Because there's habits of action, like my mornings, which are pretty harmless, and habits of thoughts, which are probably more important.

It's one thing to get up and mindlessly get our shower and drive to work; seems to me, it's another thing to wake up every morning thinking, "this is going to be a bad day," or "another day to get through." And I think we all know people with those kinds of habits.

Worry is a thought habit, obsessing is a thought habit, and perpetual optimism might just be a thought habit too.

Sometimes, I break my morning habits. (Not the shower part, though.) I listen to a different radio station, I don't iron my clothes, I drive to work a different way. Those things are easy--for me, anyway.

It's harder to work on thought habits, especially negative thinking. Harder to get your brain to turn a different way than to drive your car a different way.

But by driving your car a different way occupies your mind; it requires more concentration, and trains your brain in a new way. And just might be the initial step you need to get your thoughts driving down a new path, too.

How about you? What habit are you breakin'?

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