I noticed something simple a couple weeks ago. And though it was simple, this thing made me question the way I think about the world I live in and the way I perceive and interact with it. It’s not all that important in and of itself, but it sparked an avalanche of ideas in its wake. What else is like this in my life? What else is there that is not what I’ve taken it to be at face value? How many of my other perceptions are just… wrong? Curious…
I worked from home the last couple years until I quit my job in January. Then I went from working from home to just BEING at home. My wardrobe has gotten quite relaxed in those years. I went from having casual Fridays to “Oh, I’m going somewhere today, so I should probably put on some clothes.” On one of those days when I went somewhere, I put on my pair of brown corduroy pants. They’re kind of stretchy and fit me comfortably with a belt. I went about my day and my pants went with me. It was a long day, and I was really tired by the end of it. So tired that I fell asleep on the couch still wearing my clothes.
I groggily made the five step journey from my living room to my bedroom to get some proper rest. But in my foggy state of being half-asleep, I did something new. I just yanked my pants off without first unbuttoning them or unzipping the fly. And they came right off. I don’t think I cared much about it at the time or really even noticed. But the next morning, I picked up the pants to throw them in the hamper and noticed that the fly was still zipped and buttoned. I left it that way and pulled them on. Huh! There was no struggle. They went on fine and just conformed to my waist as they usually did. Pulled them off again, and again there was no struggle.
I’ve had those pants for about three years now. My body shape hasn’t changed very much in that time. So how long has this been true? I have other pants that are similarly made with a little stretch to them. I tried them all on. SAME THING. I didn’t need to touch the fly on any of my pants to be able to get them off and on easily. Most of them just need a belt to keep them where they belong during the day’s many standing ups and sitting downs. Revelation!
How much time have I spent dealing with a vestigial structure on my clothing? It adds up, surely. I can remember some pants I’ve worn in recent years that were form-fitting enough and lacking stretch that this wouldn’t have worked with them. But I hadn’t even TRIED before. The thought never even crossed my mind. Button, zip, buckle; unbuckle, unbutton, unzip. Over and over for years.
Perhaps what’s more interesting is that even after making that discovery… Now that I KNOW there’s no need to fiddle with those fasteners… I STILL DO IT. It’s over 30 years of autopilot at work. It’s hard to rewire those neural pathways to stop myself from doing something that is so habitually ingrained. But still, the new way is more efficient, so I’m going to retrain myself. It’s not that it takes a lot of effort. It’s more that I have to be more mindful of something I haven’t thought about since I was a little kid.
It’s hard for us to remember what it was like when we were little. Tiny fingers just starting to figure out how to work things in the big new world. Putting buttons through buttonholes, putting on socks, getting shoes on so the socks aren’t all bunched up in the toe, tying shoelaces! Working forks, knives, spoons, bowls, cups, straws, stairs, everything!!! You work and struggle at each new kind of clasp or fastener until you finally get it to work that first time. And every time after that is practice until it’s something that’s automatic in your muscle memory. Much like I’m typing these words on a little keyboard as a touch-typist… My fingers are in the right place because the letters are coming out in the expected order. There’s an upraised bump on both the “F” and “J” keys. I had to rewire my brain a bit to use this particular keyboard, though. The “;” key has been replaced by a “‘” key. I have to use the Fn key to get the semi-colon and colon now. I would argue that it’s a slight improvement over standard QWERTY, but it has made making emoticons a lot more annoying. And then it’s a pain to switch back to a normal keyboard, so I do most of my writing on this one.
But I digress… Anyway, I’ve been trying to approach many aspects of my life right now with the same level of mindfulness. I do so many things simply because that’s how I’ve always done them. But as I approach things with a higher level of awareness, I hope to find more ways to improve things.
A lot of this thought has helped me to see that though I have a lot of interests, skills and talents, I believe I am a designer at heart. Always trying to make things better, more efficient, work more smoothly… I’ve always been that way. But I feel like I’m taking it to another level now. Not just coming into a field where I’ll be a designer by trade. But also designing my life. Cutting out the things that don’t work, improving on the things that do, but could be better… It’s an interesting, exciting and sometimes scary time in my life right now. Sometimes the changes I make are huge and obviously life-altering. Other times, it’s just learning that all I need to do is buckle and unbuckle my belt. But they’re all making my brain work differently. And somehow, that seems pretty significant when you think about it.