There’s a decision node on one of my jogging routes where, if I take a left turn, I can get home about twenty minutes faster than if I go straight. Sometimes I make the turn. Sometimes I don’t. There’s a simple reason it feels wrong to go straight: It is wrong. Well, biologically it is anyway. The current release of the human mind was designed back when shortcuts were true life hacks – ways of deferring demise a bit longer. And doing anything antithetical to staying alive for the next 24 hours was pretty stupid.
Just imagine a Cro-Magnon man or woman jumping out of bed at 5:00 AM to run five miles for the sole purpose of burning calories. Think that happened much?
Out with old problems, in with new
Today, in the cozy confines of the First World, death and discomfort no longer have a front row seat in our psyche. We’ve become the children of an economy that attends to our every basic survival need. Warmth, food, water, medicine, and shelter just sort of appear when we need them. We don’t have to hunt and gather these ingredients for life; we don’t even have to know how.
But of course, being the beings we are, we’ve created a whole new wilderness of problems to grapple with. Problems like making more money, being more productive, being more creative, losing weight, and just generally being happier.
These aren’t easy problems to solve because we’re stuck with the same primitive programming we’ve had for well over 100,000 years – neurological code that abends when we tell it to avoid shortcuts.
More paradoxically, the problems of our First World are largely the side effect of centuries of shortcutting. We’ve gotten so good at taking shortcuts that the act of shortcutting has become a problem itself:
Easy paths usually circle back to exactly where you started, a locale most people seem antsy to depart.
Make it feel good
We like to believe we’re rational beings, but the reality is that most decisions we make – good or bad – are emotional. We typically do what feels right, not necessarily what we know is best.
Unless I suddenly get carpet bombed with hail, I know that going straight on my jogging route is the rational thing to do. Whether I actually choose to go straight, however, has nothing to do with rationale and everything to do with my emotional state at that confluence of asphalt, time, weather, and motivation.
Simply reasoning with my oxygen-starved self that I’m “better off” running longer is a weak strategy. If going straight feels right, it happens. If not, I turn home.
So what makes it feel right? Often, it’s as simple as the song playing on my iPod.
If I’m thinking ahead, I make sure a good song is playing as I approach that critical fork. With the right music in my hear, avoiding the turn will feel like the right thing to do. Turning left prematurely ends a good thing. Going straight extends the artificial high.
First World life hacked; demise deferred.
What makes you take the long way home?
People have many homes and cozy places they’d rather be during any part of their productive day. I know I do. What are yours? Email? Facebook? Xbox? TV? Where do you like to go curl up and nest when things get hard?
More importantly, have you ever thought about what keeps you away from home the longest? My advice: figure those things out and leverage the shit out of them. Circumnavigate shortcuts, and make it fun.
I’m going to be talking more about making long cuts feel right. I’d like to know how you do, too.