Brown M&M’s

Have you ever found yourself at the office on Saturday morning instead of the grocery store?  Autopilot.  Autopilot is when the conscious brain has delegated predictable, recurring routine activity to the subconscious….  Like, driving to the office, every morning.  Master orchestrator of your life, the conscious brain has better things to think about than the routine mundane stuff.  Autopilot is a good thing.  Can you imagine if you had to consciously think through every little routine activity like the route to the bathroom, how to use the soap dispenser and brushing your teeth? We’d be exhausted before we got dressed and out the door, never mind reaching the office.  Our brain routinizes as much as possible.  But sometimes our autopilot behaviours need revision.    

I read about a very powerful concept in Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath, called a Tripwire.  A tripwire is some ‘thing’ that snaps us out of our autopilot behaviours, some ‘thing’ that makes us stand up and take notice, question or investigate further.   To illustrate their point, they  relate a story about David Lee Roth, lead singer of the rock band Van Halen.  Roth used brown M&Ms as a tripwire.  For Roth a brown M&M in the candy bowl backstage triggered a warning to pay careful attention to staging.  Imagine multiple, eighteen wheelers loaded with rock ‘n roll band equipment pulling up back stage, greeted by bunch of enthusiastic, somewhat novice, local hires ready to assist in setting up for the performance.  Complete with flames, smoke, liquid nitrogen and probably other explosives, there are several thousand details that need careful attention to ensure audience safety not to mention a seamless performance.  Lights and cables strung haphazardly could spell disaster.  Buried deep in the instructions to the local stage crew, is a simple instruction – remove the brown M&Ms.  In a fraction of a second, it is possible to ascertain if the details were attended to appropriately.  Brilliant.

If life seems overly routine, and the weeks are turning into years, if not decades, maybe we need to build a tripwire into our routines – our personal version of brown M&Ms.  If we set a tripwire and don’t need it, that’s cool.  But wouldn’t you rather trigger an unnecessary tripwire that makes you reflect on the overall course of your life, than wake up one day, and find yourself completely adrift? 

Every time you buy gas, reflect on your most recent conversation with your teen or significant other.  If you cannot recall any details, maybe it’s time to pay closer attention or set up a date night.

Every time you misplace your keys (or cannot find the TV remote), consider decluttering one drawer, closet or bookshelf.

Pick a frequent or infrequent routine activity.   Add a brown M&M.

What would you like to reflect upon more often?  Set yourself a trip wire.

Buff it up my friends,
Dr. Karen

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