I recently started seeing a new dental hygenist, and amid the panoply of dental paraphernalia, she said to me that she had one quick and simple tip, the easiest and fastest way to help keep your dental health: after brushing, spit, don’t rinse.*
How obvious! I thought, how simple! Sometimes you just need an expert to point out these elegant little tricks. And I thanked her, and went away with my new brushes, and my new techniques, and my new knowledge that ‘spit, don’t rinse’ was the way forward.
And I went home, and dutifully used my new brushes and applied my new techniques, and at the end I rinsed my mouth out, exactly the same way as I’ve done twice a day every day for the past 30 years.
Oh well! I’ll get it tomorrow. After all, I’ve managed with the new brushes and the new routine, and that’s a much bigger change. This is so simple! So easy! I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it in no time.
Into work in the morning, and the first thing I do is click to open my emails. As they load, I think ‘oh no! I wasn’t supposed to be doing this now.’ I work best at the end of the day, and can find mornings drifting away in an orgy of unproductive reading and clicking. My solution is simple and easy: do some work as soon as I get in, before I open my emails or twitter or my blog feeds. What can possibly be so important it can’t wait?
20 minutes of routine work to start the day and I’m instantly in a more productive groove. I’ve achieved something. The day is off to a good start. All it takes is that one small, simple change of not clicking the outlook icon as soon as my PC boots every morning. How hard can it be?
As an information professional, I’m worried about my day-to-day information retrieval. I want to move away from the domination of Google for my casual searching. I’ve heard good things about Duck Duck Go! Let’s change my default search engine. That’s a quick, easy change, which can improve my day-to-day search experience. So I make the change in my browser and my clickto extensions – and then a few weeks later I reinstall my PC. Time to make that simple change again…
I have failed to make all three of these changes. I still rinse after brushing. Outlook is still the first program I open in the morning. Google is still my default search engine. Why? What’s wrong with me, that I’ve failed to make such quick, simple, easy changes? I’ve coped with much bigger things.
The answer, of course, is that what’s wrong with me is how I’m seeing these changes. They may be simple, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy. They’re difficult precisely because they’re simple. Things that require thought are often easier to change, because you have something to change: a process, a way of thought; something that involves a major change has more indicators to remind you of the change.
How you see a challenge will change how you face it. You’re more likely to spend time thinking about major challenges, working out how to tackle them, reminding yourself that this thing has changed and you must do these things in response. A quick, simple, easy change? Well, it’s quick, and simple, and easy. Why would I need to think about it?
So now I’m forcing myself to give these changes the respect they need. I have spent 5, 10, 30 years doing the things that need changing. They may only be a simple behaviour, but they’re an ingrained one. To borrow the metaphor from this post (about learning as bug fixing), these changes are a patch: they may only be a few lines long, but they will fundamentally change my source code. And you should never take rewriting your source code lightly.
So: I have three fundamental changes I want to make to improve my productivity and general well-being. they may be a bit of a struggle, but I’m sure I’ll get there. After all, who said change would be easy?
*It keeps the fluoride in, dontchaknow.