We each have millions of cats in our lives and a similar number of ways to skin them.
When do you wake up? That’s a cat.
Do you eat meat? That’s a cat.
Do you have a fourth beer on a Thursday night? That’s a cat.
It’s easy for us to forget that each of these cats is a choice we get to make.
The reason it’s easy to overlook is that we’ve long since outsourced most routine choices to established patterns of behaviour.
In order to avoid choice overload every moment, we rely on habits, patterns and behaviours that we’ve formed in the past to ease the cognitive load as we go about our day.
Unfortunately for us, we form habits in the same way that evolution picks survivors – it doesn’t optimise for what is the best, it settles for what is the least shitty option that’s come so far.
We figure out what works just enough to survive and we run with that.
It’s a great system in one way: it allows us to function across a broad spectrum of activities without getting lost in the detail. But it also means that we can be stuck with mediocre or even bad choices for a long time if we don’t remember to review our automatic behaviours and check that they still work for us.
I’m not saying we don’t want or need habits – they’re vital to our productivity – I’m just saying that we should be aware of them, check them and update them if necessary.
There are cats we’re still flaying by hand, despite the fact that we’re now the proud owners of the Skin-o-matic 6000TM
The trick is recognising the choices we’ve long since forgotten to make. They can be well camouflaged, and many will be rusted into a single position, taking time and attention to unjam.
You might not want to change what you eat, why you respond to stress or how you skin a cat, but if you do – you’ll need to keep your eyes open.
Changing our choices and behaviours isn’t the work of a moment, but can be one of the most rewarding projects there is.
*No cats were harmed in the writing of this post (but I’m obviously a dog person)