I have a walk that I take most days, along a portion of the North Thompson River in central BC.
I always go the same way; it allows my mind to focus on other things besides where I’m going.
This morning, though, I dropped something and had to retrace my steps for a short way to retrieve it. In the process, I saw these lovely flowers.
Tucked away beside a tree and amongst some other greenery, I couldn’t see them when I walked past in the other direction just a moment before.
That got me thinking about perspective.
Our habits of mind can lead us to miss so many things.
The human brain is a pattern-seeking machine. It needs to be. So much of our daily energy goes to fueling our brain that if we had to consciously think about everything that we do, we’d be exhausted all the time.
Once our brain establishes a pattern, it goes on autopilot and lets the subconscious mind deal with the actions, freeing our conscious mind for other things.
Have you ever driven into the parking lot at work when you had actually set out to go to a nearby store? Once the first few actions are taken, our brains recognize the pattern and go on automatic.
Again, it’s necessary. But it also restricts our perspective.
Ever wonder why kids are so creative? They have fewer patterns recorded.
Some people have been able to deliberately limit the number of patterns they form, or at least are conscious of them. They’re the people who come up with innovative ideas, creative solutions and who see opportunities in things that the rest of us don’t even notice.
If you’ve ever heard of a good idea and thought “That’s so simple! Why didn’t I think of that?”, it’s because you were blinded by your patterns, just as I was blind to the flowers.
So, what can you do?
Become aware of your patterns, and how they limit your perspective.
Not just in our physical actions, but also in how we look at things around us.
Notice your biases (we all have them!), and think about how they were formed.
Pay attention to things that you’ve seen all your life but never looked at; cracks in sidewalks, the expressions of passers-by, the shapes of clouds.
Study the way you do everyday actions, like getting dressed in the morning, and think of different ways that it could be done.
Then break those patterns!
Experiment with “walking in someone else’s shoes”.
One morning I decided that I would do my entire toothbrushing routine blindfolded. From the time I walked into the bathroom until I walked out again, I couldn’t see. You would be amazed at how difficult it was, and gave me a much clearer idea of what it would be like to be blind.
You could try something like that, or spend a night on the street to see what it would be like to be homeless, or one of thousands of other ways to help you see how other people live.
Change up your routine; spend a week driving to work by different routes or switch up the order you get dressed in.
If you need a reminder, wear your watch on the opposite wrist (or carry your phone in the opposite back pocket). Whenever you go to use it, you will be reminded to look at things differently, to be aware of your patterns and what you may be missing by always following them.
Find ways to change your perspective. If you’re more tired at the end of the day than usual, you’ll know that you’re succeeding!
Me? I’m going to do my walk in the opposite direction tomorrow.