For the past week I’ve been doing some very necessary, but non-stimulating work tasks. I’ve been searching for HR organizations and building spreadsheets with contact names, phone numbers, websites, email addresses, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, etc (by the way, did you know there are more than 750 regional chapters of SHRM, ASTD, and OD Network?). Anyway, for about a week my mind was lulled into a rhythm of search, open new window, copy, paste, rinse, and repeat. I don’t mind though, because I am meticulous about data collection and probably wouldn’t trust anyone else to compile this list for me anyway.
Yesterday, however, I realized that the monotony had taken its toll. I had just purchased my afternoon Soy Latte at Starbucks, and when the barista handed me my drink she said “Thank you” to which I responded “Love you too.” Wait….what?!?!
That’s right! I said “I love you!” to my local Starbucks barista! My brain was not only on auto-pilot, but it was on auto-pilot on the wrong plane!
Before you laugh too hard at my expense, you know you’ve done the same thing. You know you’ve grabbed a meal somewhere and when the cashier said “Enjoy your meal” you responded “You too.”
It happens. We expect a certain exchange in routine conversations and as a result, we don’t always stay engaged in what is actually being said. How often have you been introduced to someone and because you were thinking about your own response you didn’t listen to the person’s name?
When our brains detect a routine, they reserve their energy and switch into passive mode. Routines are like kryptonite to the critical thinking process. When you’re in a routine, you don’t ask questions. You don’t seek out new information. You don’t see inefficiency. You don’t challenge assumptions. You don’t allow yourself the opportunity to make connections between unrelated concepts.
While my Starbucks love confession will only have minor implications on my life (i.e. driving a mile further to get my coffee at the next closest Starbucks from now on), any time we allow our brains to act passively we lose the opportunity to think BIG. If I’d really been actively involved in my Starbucks visit, who knows what I might have noticed. A patron reading an interesting book? A conversation about an interesting topic? An opportunity to network? The meaning of life? Who knows…
Instead I walked out of the Starbucks 3 shades more red than when I arrived, and with a blog post idea brewing. Keep your eyes open, stay engaged in the moment, and save the “I love you’s” for someone who can offer you more than some extra whipped cream.
What was your most embarrassing auto-pilot moment?
Learn more about the RED Model of Critical Thinking here.