torstaina, marraskuuta 29, 2012

Non-event feedback loops

I recently read an interesting blog-article about Non-event feedback loops in the context of mountaneering and avalanche safety. The concept is so important that it deserves a note here as well. As an example of such feedback loops consider a train-track which is close to your home. On your way to the supermarket, you can either cross the tracks or walk a longer way over a bridge. You have always crossed the track and because nothing ever happened, you don't think twice about it. Right? Boom.

It is not especially about trains, but it could be about traffic safety, or sharp knives, chemicals and electrical appliances in a family with small kids, or snow safety in the mountains.

It is strange how easily we become used to our habits. You look twice and listen carefully before crossing the train-tracks the first time. After a week checking your iPhone while running to the supermarket seems more important than the approaching train.

Simultaneously, habits release our attention to other tasks and allow us for getting more things done. So there is a benefit of some habits. The trick is to know when they are useful.

My one-size-fits-all solution is awareness. Crossing the train track is every time a choice. It is a decision that you should be aware of. You should also be aware of the factors influencing your choice. If you have always gone to the supermarket at 6pm, but today go at 7pm, perhaps the train schedules are different. Perhaps you have seen a construction work on the train tracks a few kilometers away which would change the way trains are routed.

What I am personally interested in is not actually the big things, like crossing the train tracks, but little, everyday habits, like the choice of taking a shower in the morning or the evening? I always take a shower in the morning, because it wakes me up and my hair is a mess after sleeping. But I also do sports usually in the evening and a shower after wards is, well, kind-of necessary. I have also always used to eat a good dinner in the evening, because I have always been hungry in the evening. Until one day I notice that I actually wasn't hungry in the evening, hadn't been hungry in the evening for years, and had gained a few extra kilos because I ate too much.

The thing I am thus advocating is a sensitivity, an awareness, to the little choices, like:
  • I have always kept my keys in my right front pocket
  • I have always eaten mysli for breakfast
  • I always took this route to the office
Perhaps what you have always done is perfect, perhaps it is not, but you don't know it until you become aware of that choice.