I want to share two life changing reasons for why you should become more deliberate in your decision making.
Brain = Automation Engine
Your brain will avoid work at all costs. Seriously. It will go out of its way to do less.
One of the brilliant hacks your brain has is its ability to tune out things that don’t change. Your brain is hard wired to spot difference – not sameness. Ever left work, driven home, and arrived without any memory of the intervening journey?
This is because things that are the same (or more or less the same) pose no threat. You’ve encountered them before, and you’re still alive, so no sweat. Ignore them.
Its a great way to conserve energy and resources in case there is an actual threat just around the corner.
There’s a fantastic cycle safety video that demonstrates this phenomenon perfectly. Along with the related fact that if you are paying attention to something specific (like a phone call) this inattention to sameness is exacerbated.
What does this have to do with leadership?
In a further attempt to save energy, your brain is a highly effective automation engine. Tasks you do frequently become automatic.
Stop right there.
Tasks you do frequently become automatic. Your brain doesn’t care how important the task is. Only that it is repeated regularly.
This goes for the commute example above. But how many other aspects of your daily activities are relatively repetitive?
- Saying good morning to colleagues when you arrive at the office?
- Checking your email?
- Assigning tasks?
- Certain meetings?
- Discussions with clients?
- Ordering your coffee? Or lunch?
- Spending time with your spouse or children?
- Vital parts of your job?
These are all things that can happen frequently – maybe daily or even more often. But that doesn’t mean they are not important. Far from it.
So what are the two life changing reasons?
Reason 1: Slow Down Ageing – Deliberately
No seriously. How many times have you remarked to somebody how time seems to be speeding up? It’s April already? It seems only a few weeks have passed since New Year’s Day!
Well, the reality is that your perception of time speeds up as you age, at least in part because you are creating fewer new memories. For those routine tasks you automate, you obtain a significant benefit in terms of energy preservation, but the cost is that you aren’t paying attention, so you don’t create a memory of it – leading to the sense that time is flying by.
Obviously big new experiences, like leaping from a plane, are a great way to create new memories, but simply paying attention to everyday experiences – being mindful and deliberate – can have the same effect.
Reason 2: Have a Deliberate Positive Impact on Others
Many of those ‘little’ repetitive things are actually someone else’s ‘big’ thing.
Think about it.
Every day at work you have to delegate tasks. You’ve worked out who you can rely on to deliver, and chances are that your brain has become repetitive. Saving you worry, anxiety and effort. But what if your assumptions are no longer correct? What if Sam’s performance has slipped because he can take for granted that you’ll hand him the plum assignment? Actually, if you gave that task to Wendy instead, it would take a bit more effort on your part, and it might not work out, but wouldn’t she be thrilled to have the opportunity to show you what she can do?
So What’s the Catch?
Simple. It’s really hard.
What I’m describing requires you to deliberately and manually override your brain’s natural tendencies. Tendencies that have repeatedly demonstrated their value to you. Tendencies that your brain is going to be very reluctant to let go of easily.
But there is good news. What I’ve outlined here is, in essence, mindfulness. The art and practice of meditation provides you with a tool kit for remaining present. In the moment. With effort, you can hone this skill and identify the decisions you are making – in your work life, in your home life, in your social life. Just in life!
And the upshot of all that hard work? You get to live longer, have a deliberate positive impact on the people around you, AND you get to be aware of the numerous decisions you make on a daily basis!
How often do you find time has slipped away without you noticing?
What has been the most significant consequence of a decision you’ve made on autopilot?