We often talk about things in a stereotypical way. “The I10 is always backed up”, “The queue outside the coffee shop is always longer, around 8.am.” or ” The boss always walks in while I am looking at my phone!”. The things that we experience or notice on a regular basis, seem to be the things we consider ‘the norm’. Normal. Usual. But what is ‘the norm’? It must be something that we experience repeatedly. Surely it has happened so many times that we almost ‘know’ it is going to happen?
When do we notice these things?
Like any event that happens, the impact that it has on us, is relative to our connection to that event. Arriving at the coffee shop around 8.am to find the queue snaking around the block is more impactful that driving past it. From the car we may notice it on our morning commute, but we won’t be looking out for it. However, from the car, we will notice the I10 being backed up on our way to the office and try to find an alternate route if it happens repeatedly.
It happens all the time.
How many times have you heard or said this? A friend who is always late for a dinner date? The phone number to call, having a thirty-minute wait time! We experience these things and make our own database of what ‘always’ happens. Yet, if you think of those occasions when you have been to a place for the second time and it has been a completely different experience from your first visit? It really sticks out in our mind. “Hey last time we were here there was a long wait to get in!” On this occasion you got in straight away.
So, how many times does it take?
It must really be a lot of times, right? Surely, it must happen hundreds and hundreds of times, to make us feel that it is ‘the norm’. Something happening repeatedly, ad infinitum, to make us realise and then believe, that it will always happen this way.
But what if I told you that almost the exact opposite is true?
That it is only three times.
Apparently, that’s what we are. We humans. Sounds incredible and yet I remember hearing this for the first time and being in utter disbelief myself. Mainly because I am tenacious and somewhat, stubborn. So surely, I could not be influenced so quickly by anything? First, our ancestors had to learn quickly or we would not be here. Imagine how long it would take you to figure out why every member of your tribe or clan, that walked into the bears cave, never came out?
Put your hand out for me, please.
If we sat together and I asked you to put your hand out for me because I wanted to show you something interesting. You would most like comply. If I smacked your hand, hard enough to make you withdraw it. You might perhaps, throw me a look of disapproval. I would then need to work a little harder to get you to put your hand out for a second time. However, with a smile, an apology and some reassurance, I’m pretty confident that you would oblige. Then just as before, I smack your hand! You would of course withdraw it and this time you may even add a little word or two to your look of disapproval.
Now comes the crunch.
It would take some convincing from me, to get you to put your hand out for a third time. But I can be persuasive and with the right words and promises, you might, slowly and with some trepidation, put your hand out for me for the third time. Just as before, I smack you.
Third time in a row. Now you may be cross with me, you may be rubbing the back of your hand, you might even say some rude words to me. But you will never put your hand out for me ever again.
And I do mean ever, again.
If I saw you five years later and said “Hey, it’s been a few years. How have you been?”, “Put your hand out for me”. Your hand would almost unconsciously look for protection. You might cover it with your other hand or even put it behind your back and no amount of encouraging or coercion will get you to put your hand out.
Three times and you are convinced.
In conclusion, I can only see good news here. Because once we understand how we ‘tick’, it can be easier to work with the way we do things, to help effect change. If we are so quickly convinced about how things can ‘always’ happen then surely that can empower us to just as quickly, change the things we want to. It doesn’t always have to be ‘that way’. We can notice the old way and choose to make it happen in a new way.
It might only take three times.
P.S. Help yourself to make small changes, just take a fresh look at the things you think ‘always happen’.
P.P.S. Sorry about your hand.x