Flip your default

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to fly away for a long weekend on a day’s notice (e.g. booking a cheap flight on Thursday to leave Friday morning). My immediate reaction was “I can’t do that! I have all these things I have to do! That’s crazy! It’s irresponsible!” So I decided not to do it. But I mentioned it to a friend, who exhorted me to change my mind; he said “What will you remember in a year? The time you stayed home to work, or the time you flew away for a last-minute vacation?” That reminded me of the old adage that we don’t regret the things we do, we regret the things we didn’t do.

So I made a list of the reasons I “couldn’t” go on this weekend trip, and started addressing them one by one on that Thursday. I moved a couple meetings, I worked late that night to finish up a work project, I set up my computer so I could work on my coaching homework on the plane, etc. After doing all of those tasks, I booked the plane ticket at midnight to fly out 12 hours later, and had an awesome weekend getaway.

This experience reminded me that we see what we expect to see. When I had decided I couldn’t go on this trip, my brain generated all the reasons why it was impossible for me to go, and it was irresponsible to even consider it. Once I decided I would go, then it was immediately clear what I needed to get done to make that happen, and I executed on those next steps. The only thing that changed was my perspective, but flipping from “no” to “yes” changed everything.

I’ve had this experience before multiple times, so I should have learned it by now. In June of 2012, I had no plans for the week of July 4th, and decided on a whim to do my first bike tour, a six day trip down the coast to Santa Barbara. I had been saying I wanted to do a bike tour since buying my beloved Surly Long Haul Truckera year earlier, and yet I never made it happen. Once I decided to do it, I figured out the equipment I needed, bought that equipment, and even did a test camping trip on my bike that weekend before heading out on my tour. I had a similar experience with my trip to India; I had never traveled alone internationally, and yet once I decided to go, I somehow figured out everything I needed for a 3-week trip to India in a couple weeks.

The key step in each experience was not figuring out the details of what to do, but just deciding to go. Once I decided to go, the next steps of what I needed to do to enable that decision became clear. But until the decision, my brain came up with all of the reasons why I couldn’t go, why it would be too hard, why it would be a bad or dangerous idea, etc.

In other words, my brain generates reasons to keep things as they are today (the nerd term for this is homeostasis, a system’s resistance to change to preserve a stable equilibrium). This is particularly insidious because the brain filters everything that we see, such that we tend to see only things that support what we already believe. Changing what we see requires changing what we believe; hence, the advice in the title of this post, Flip your Default.

I flipped my default from No to Yes for my Year of Yes, and learned that I had many more possibilities than I thought I had, because I had just been dismissing options before because they didn’t fit my mindset. The next time you’re confronting a choice, what would happen if you flipped your default and imagined making the opposite decision that you normally would?

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