Unconscious Dominoes

We are packets of movements, repeated every single day. In essence, we are periodic, operating on cycles that make us beings of habit.

Think about the things you do daily that are automatic. You wake up, maybe make yourself some breakfast, and check your news feeds. You don’t only check your news feeds, and you never do it before you make your breakfast. Every day, it’s the same movements, the same habits, in the same cycle. One action leads to another, without you having to think about it.

Wake up, make breakfast, check your feeds.

Here’s another example: as a student, you’re studying for an upcoming exam. However, you find much of the content dull, and so you’re prone to drifting off with distractions. However, these distractions aren’t random. As soon as you’re on your computer and you get bored, you’re typing the words of your favourite site before your brain even realizes what it’s doing. Even worse, your mental energy is so depleted that you don’t even stop yourself from continuing.

These two examples illustrate a tendency we have, one of unconscious dominoes. We don’t do activities in isolation. One leads to another, and they become inextricably linked from the repetition of doing them together. As such, they act as dominoes. Doing the first primes the mind to do the next one, and so on.

Furthermore, the more that dominoes are lined up, the easier it becomes to go through the motions of our days without thinking about our actions. You’re living on autopilot. When more actions happen as a consequence of another, it is easy to just “go with the flow”. Before we know it, we have so many dominoes lined up that our actions for the day are basically pre-determined. Not in some “destiny is written” sort of thing, but in the sense that our habits become more and more difficult to deviate from.

This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Essentially, this piece sounds a bit like having one’s day completely planned. However, the crucial difference is that having your day planned means you most likely thought about it. The unconscious dominoes are just the opposite: patterns you don’t notice and only execute because they are familiar and easy to complete. By living out of habit, you’re letting yourself to the whims of your tendencies, which may or may not be good.

What is good though is to use this tendency of unconscious dominoes to construct packets of movements and habits that align with what you want to do with your life.

Most days, I run in the morning. It has gotten to the point that I have a whole “ritual” in the morning from the moment I get up to the time I’m out of the door.

My routine looks like this:

  • I wake up
  • I dress in my running gear
  • I do twenty squats
  • I go downstairs and eat my breakfast (always a banana and a bowl of cereal) while reading some news.
  • I put my watch outside to get signal, and use the bathroom.
  • I do my warm up stretching and flexibility.
  • I put any extra gear on, tie my shoes, and go out the door.

The time this takes me? About thirty to forty minutes. I’ve refined this routine so that I waste little time. Each movement is linked with the next, introducing the domino effect to tasks I want to get done quickly.

The beauty with these “packets” of habits is that they remain there even if they don’t get used for a while. Since I start school early, I cannot always run early in the morning. However, when I do get a chance to go for a morning run, my brain has learnt the habits needed for me to efficiently use my time in the morning to run. Therefore, these packets persist over time.

Whether you like it or not, these unconscious dominoes are there. You are using them for at least parts of your life. The challenge is to first find them (make them conscious), and then evaluate if they have a place in your life. If they do, keep them there. But if they don’t, think about other packets of habits that can affect your life in a positive way, and try to introduce those into your life. At first, it will be difficult and somewhat awkward. However, as you repeat them more and more, they will begin to revert back to your subconscious, becoming unconscious dominoes.

The trick is to place the dominoes in a way that they knock themselves over in a configuration that you like.

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