Do you remember those toys you could knock over and they would pop right up again? For the life of me I can’t recall the name of them, but they’re weighted at the bottom so that kids can bash them over again and again and the toy will always pop back up to its starting position. It feels a little bit cruel to the toy when you think about it – doomed to live a life of getting pummelled and coming back for more – but we just bought one of these toys for our puppy and, let me tell you, the toy is winning.
This particular version of the toy (for you dog owners out there, it’s a Kong) is designed to stretch out your puppy’s meal time by turning dinner into a game. There’s a hole in the side of the toy, so you fill it up with kibble, close the lid, and your dog is meant to bash it over on its side so that some food falls out. Sounds easy enough, but Ralph really did not get the idea.
The problem was that Ralph found an alternative method of getting the kibble out, one that wasn’t totally ineffective; he would just stick his tongue in the hole and get one piece at a time. And it worked, albeit more slowly than the intended method, but he ran into trouble when the level of food started to go down and he couldn’t reach it with his tongue anymore.
And yet he persisted.
James and I would knock the toy over to show him how to do it properly, but Ralph stuck with his method that had worked before. We even picked up his paw and helped him knock it over himself, but he would just eat what came out and then go back to his old way. It had worked fine in the past, right? Why wouldn’t it work again? I got so frustrated with Ralph – why couldn’t he see that the old way wasn’t working? It would be so much better, so much easier, if he just tried a new angle. But I think I found it so frustrating because I recognised the stubborn behaviour in myself.
When something works fine, when it’s not brilliant or perfect but it’s OK, so often we settle for that without reaching for more. We stick with an old routine or way of doing things, simply because that’s the way we’ve always done it. Never mind that it could be changed and improved, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it – even if it keeps you living a mediocre life.
And the more I think about it, the more I realise there are so many areas of our lives we live out on autopilot:
The way we do things around here.
Any institution that’s been around a while – be it a workplace, church or even a family – will have systems and processes and traditions deeply ingrained in the culture. I’m a big believer in workflows and processes for keeping everyone doing things in the same way and working as a team, but how often are those systems reviewed for improvement? Organisations grow and develop – different people come and go, technology changes, and what used to work 20 years ago might not be the best way of doing things now. Maybe it’s time to review your culture and get rid of those redundant traditions.
Sticking too hard to your choices.
Over the years I’ve come to learn that an OK job is worse in the long-run than a terrible one. If your boss is awful, if the work is dull, if you hate your colleagues, it sucks but it gives you the push you need to get the hell out of there. If, on the other hand, you don’t love your work but it’s interesting enough to pass the day and the money is fine and everyone is friendly enough, you can end up spending years stuck where you are because it’s not bad enough to make you look for something else, something you love. You just keep getting out one small treat at a time without realising that a greater reward is in store if you just knock the whole thing on the head. After a decade of adult life, I’m only now in a job situation that I love and I can’t believe how much it’s impacting my work ethic – I don’t even hate Mondays anymore!
Stagnating in your relationships.
People are creatures of habit, so it makes sense that we develop a way of being with each other and leave it there. But what if your relationships – with your partner, with your kids, with your friends – could be deeper and richer if only you tried something new? Maybe a date night where you do something new together could enrich your marriage. Maybe a parenting course could give you new ideas to try with your kids. I’ve known my friend Cleo for years, but only recently did we have the idea that we should go out for dinner just the two of us. We had a great evening and talked about loads of things we never usually get to talk about, and we both said that we felt like we’d levelled up in our friendship. There was nothing wrong with how our friendship was, but now we’re just that little bit closer than we were before.
So take a look at your life. How have you been doing things, and is it still working? Are you happy with the way you spend your time? How do you organise your stuff? Is your life full of everything you want and need or is something missing? It’s time to stop burying your head in it, take a step back and, if necessary, find a new method and give it a bash.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti