I am conflicted with regards to habits, and their benefit. You have probably heard and read that successful people in general cultivate good habits. According to a self-help book first published in 1925 that I have a habit of browsing through every few weeks, nine tenths of our actions are automatic, and that is a good thing because we don’t need to devote thinking time, or brain power, when performing an automatic task. It has been pretty well documented that the reason Steve Jobs always wore the jeans and the black turtleneck, of which he had many pairs, was because that way he did not have to waste time thinking about things that were inconsequential, reserving brain energy for things that matter, like creating and innovating. A case could be made for the validity of the 90% statistic, given the span of a hundred years, and the average size of wardrobe options in 1925 versus 2018.
When my work interacting with startups and developing relationships in the entrepreneurship community started to expand the geographical reach of my weekly activities, I started using Google maps to find my way around Broward and Palm Beach counties – having been a long-time resident of Miami-Dade. My habit of inputting every address into Google maps before starting the car became so strong that even when I knew where I was going because I had been there once or twice before, I still would let my phone tell me where to go while my mind would wander into other things as I drove. I rationalized that even if I knew the way to a place, logging it in Google maps was helpful because I could use it to give me estimated arrival times, and helped me with my punctuality.
After a while I started doubting myself. I got so intensely immersed in my mind-wandering and creativity-nurturing activities, including the listening of podcasts, that I would miss an exit here and there. I remember a time as a kid when I knew all my friends’ phone numbers. If I lost my phone today, I would not know how to dial some of my immediate family members. Their numbers have not registered in my head because of my over reliance in the technology tools at my disposal. That, I thought, could not be good thing. If for some reason our technological frame of reference failed us at any given time, we could be unprepared to respond. We have a normalcy bias. If a hurricane ripped off all the highway signs, and changed the landscape foliage, you would easily miss exits in roads you travelled time and again in the past. I know because it happened to me recently driving through my hometown in San Juan. Things may not always be normal. Things may not always be the same. The most successful entrepreneurs, regardless of their habits, despite their habits, know that.
Not minding how much creativity and innovation I could encourage my neurons to divert their attention to, while my visual and auditory systems respond to the signal Google maps sends me, the fact that I was encouraging a sense of complacency with regards to processing information that could be crucial to really know – in the here and now – at some point in the future, worried me. Think about that. I generally stopped using Google maps. Now and then, I will put in an address when planning a trip to a place where I need to remind myself of how to get there. Before getting on the road I would forward swipe the screen to get all the directions, confirming to my lazy neurons that I know how to get there because I’ve been there before and I can now turn off the app and get on the road. I can then be present, and focused, on decisions that have consequences for the immediate future – like getting to the place I’m going.
According to my book from almost 100 years ago, mental energy used for trivial daily duties should be free for other and more important things. Those who can think, will be masters of those who can only do. Those who can both think and do, will rise the highest. How do you reconcile all of this? What are you thinking?