Recently, I started a new job. Just like with any new venture, the first few days were exciting in all kinds of ways: new people, new building, new work, new commute, and an overall new routine. When one gets used to a routine, everything from waking up to showing up at the workplace runs on auto-pilot. There is no need for the conscious part of your brain to realize the effort involved in the mechanics of this routine, unless of course if there are other disruptions such as bad weather, public transportation delays, car trouble, etc. But generally speaking, you aren’t much aware of all that you go through from the time you hear that alarm to the time you get to your desk. I was no different, my routine in the previous job was set and my internal brain machinery was on auto-pilot on almost all weekday mornings.
However with this new gig, I had to unlearn and relearn all that. What time should I wake up to be at my desk by 9 AM? How long is the walk from my home to the nearest subway stop? How long of a train ride is it to get from my station to where I get down? Which elevator (among the 15 elevator banks) is the best to get to the wing where my office is located? How to navigate the labyrinth of the hallways in the building to get to my assigned office? Where is the cafeteria? What time do people in my team usually eat?… and so on! It took me a few days, to determine a comfortable and an efficient routine. After about two weeks, I have the routine down and my brain is now slowly getting back to auto-pilot, thus releasing its resources to focus on other things during the commute (such as: listen to a podcast, read a book, peruse the newspaper, people-watch, etc.). It has gotten to that place where I barely even remember how I got to work and what I encountered on the way.
It’s very interesting how our brains so quickly, move the operating manual of these activities from the conscious to the sub-conscious. I read in a book recently, that this is not entirely surprising, and that this is merely part of our wiring and the evolution of our species. After all every action that you do, requires millions of neurons sending millions of instructions for your body parts to perform these actions – for example: a simple action of squeezing the toothpaste out of the tube and on to your brush requires incredible amounts of processing (you do this with your eyes closed and yet, you get it right). Now imagine this for every single routine act you perform in the morning, being consciously aware of all of them will certainly make your skull overheat and very soon your head will be on fire.
But, it begs to think of this from a people and relationships perspective. Do our brains (i.e. the owners of these brains – us) switch to auto-pilot when our relationships get to a comfortable/routine place? With our partners, friends, family – once we have earned their trust and them ours, do we push the work that our brains take to maintain and nurture a relationship to the sub-conscious? We take conscious efforts to get to know a new friend, to impress the new girlfriend/boyfriend, to really understand the motivations of your new boss or co-worker, etc. When we think we have figured them out or when we think we have “won” them over, we let go of the extra effort from that relationship. When we get to this stage of a “routine” in a relationship, do we sometimes, not realize or not see signs of distress until it reaches a crisis point? . And when that happens the conscious part of our brain takes over and tries to mitigate the crisis. The answer, at least in my case is “yes”. Having confessed this publicly, I wonder if I can train my brain to not only be conscious of the people in my life but also be effort-fully conscious of their needs and the value they bring to my life. I want to consciously invoke the memories of what it took to form a sustainable relationship with them in the first place and try to better the relationship. I wonder, if by doing this, I am challenging evolution or neuroscience? I do not know, only time shall tell.