On shortcuts, ruts, and shifting perspective


As I grow older, I find myself taking more and more shortcuts. Not that shortcuts don’t have a purpose. If you know what you want, shortcuts are great and can keep you from wasting time. But the grease that makes each shortcut so effective is an underlying assumption I don’t question, and that’s a problem.

Because of these assumptions, I don’t stop and ask myself, “Why I am doing this?” I assume that because I’ve always done it this way, I might as well continue. Move on to the next thing. I have a hectic schedule and there is so much to do that it has been simpler to fall into a routine that reinforces the shortcuts.

I wake up, I sit in traffic, I arrive at work, I react, I take a break and eat the same foods, I respond the same way, I watch the same shows, I go to bed.

Sometimes I notice how beautiful it is outside. I am distracted by a news story. But I feel as if I haven’t been thinking enough, absorbing enough. I skim the surface of my day like a flat stone skims the surface of a pond. This is not learning. This is memorizing stimulus and response.

I have been trying to be more mindful of the present, to focus on my attitude, to devote some part of the day to chipping away at long-term goals. It is uncomfortable to stray from routine and inject new practices. Even describing it here, the words come out stilted and forced.

How do I reboot myself? How do I step off the path I’ve created without everything falling apart?

I know what I am supposed to say. First I need to decide what I want and then I need to make a plan with milestones and achievable targets… but focusing on the end result seems so final and heavy and static. I want my approach to be more fluid.

I know the power of small changes made over time, how they compound, but I’m not sure I am ready to commit to a single end result. I have an idea that instead of the traditional list of “where I want to be in five years” I should ask myself continuously:

Will this action/thought process result in a positive effect over the long-term or  in the short-term?

And then focus on making the long-term choice. For example, I’m hungry. Should I eat this donut that is here in front of me and looks delicious or should I cook myself an egg, even though that will take more time and I don’t really feel like it?

If that question forms the spine of my decision-making, it is easy to choose the protein over the sugar fix. Instead of focusing on the reward, I am going to go back to the beginning and focus on the process.

I’m not abandoning goal-setting altogether, but let’s be real. I know generally where I would like to be five years from now. And if instead of focusing on a plan of attack and feeling guilty all the time when I wake up and am not that ideal version of myself, I can go down into the weeds and focus on the daily practices and choices that will move me closer or further away from who I want to be.

Now that I’ve put it like that, it isn’t so different from setting a goal and working towards it. But this way I can play mental tricks on myself and reduce it down to a single question.

Writing it all out like this, I see the contradictions, but it all comes down to this: I have goals, I take shortcuts that don’t move me towards those goals. I don’t respond well to consciously feeling like I have to do something, but then I fall into patterns where I do things for no reason beyond it’s easy.

This would be a multi-staged process, but I will attempt to tweak these behaviors first:

  • Be kinder to myself
  • Apply the question about long-term vs short-term benefits to shortcuts
  • Trick myself into making better choices as much as possible.

Think it’ll work?


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