Image Credit: “Poppy Thomas-Hill“
Almost every passing moment we navigate the world with routine. Our brain has built and reinforced neural networks through countless repetitions. Our actions become “a worn path.” We utter platitudes about the many different ways to skin a cat or complete a task, but they are just that, a platitude. Repetition after repetition, we convince ourselves that our way is the way. We become frustrated when others challenge, question, or deviate from our worn paths. We teach and bestow our paths to others, justifying it as the best way, possibly the only way. Our thoughts become righteous.
The world begins to pass us by without conscious thought. The routine is so familiar it goes unnoticed. The repetitive task is so familiar and mundane that it is all but resented, but deviating is unacceptable. “The devil you know” is better than “The devil you don’t.” Any deviation is slower, harder, clumsy, and unrefined.
What we forget is how our worn paths were once the slower, harder, clumsier, and unrefined pathways. We wore the paths we walk. We developed them over time, with every repetition we refined and reinforced them. We thought about our every action to ensure success. Why can we not do it again? How much broader could the world be if we simply walked another path? Why can we not take simple steps to help change our perspectives?
When we complete familiar tasks in different ways, we force ourselves to focus on the tasks. We force our brains to consider things now automatically. When you brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand, you focus on your every clumsy movement. The motion is so unfamiliar, it is like watching a child brush their teeth.
As I navigate my world, I like to meet the devils I don’t know. I like to brush my teeth with my non-dominant hand. I like the throw the ball for my dog with my clumsy arm. Brush after brush and throw after throw I get better and better. The subconscious thoughts are at the forefront. I try to mimic the actions of the dominant hand; the pressure, motions, hand, and arm placements. In the process, I have to evaluate and consider the path I have worn. I have to force my brain to think in new ways.
Sometimes I drive new routes home. I notice things I never noticed. I find my attention focused as it processes the new. I am here, in the moment, not coasting on autopilot as the world passes me by. You would be surprised at what you can learn when you try. What you might find if you deviate. The slower, harder, clumsier, and unfamiliar ways can be frustrating until one day they are not. They become joy and success.
It is why challenges are likened to climbing a mountain. The pathway to the top is difficult, but the view and euphoric sense of accomplishment are worth it. With each new accomplishment comes the confidence to try another. So, start brushing your teeth with your other hand, you never know what you might learn.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.