1572151571_67386c9b1c_zHere’s my advice: today, do something backward. Wash your feet first in the shower instead of your hair, or shave the other leg, the other cheek, start reading a book at the end, get into your car on the passenger side and crawl over the gear shift, walk a different route, enter your office by the back door, sleep with your feet on the pillow.

Whatever it is you always do, don’t do it. Change it just a tiny little bit. Go on, use a different bowl for your cereal. Vacuum before you dust. Move your desk so it’s facing the other wall of your cubicle.

Someone did a study in the early ’80s, thinking that paint color on office walls could improve productivity. And they were amazed at how well it worked: changing the color from white to pale green sent worker productivity up almost 25 percent. The only trouble was, after a few months peoples’ output sank to its original levels. Light green didn’t seem to have a long-term effect. So they repainted the walls a kind of beige-y brown, and again, productivity soared. (You can see the punchline coming, right?) Three months later, everything’s back the way it has always been. And then they got it—it’s not the color of the walls that moves people to wake up and work harder, it’s the attention that the change generates.

So it is with us the rest of us. We repeat behavior because it’s comforting and convenient and maybe saves time, and then it starts to be the way we always do it, the way we prefer it, and it becomes habitual.

The trouble is, acting this way is like floating down a calm river in the sun, balancing your canoe paddle across the gunwales and humming a little nameless tune . . . just before you hear that funny rumbling sound, and your mind, in its lazy, somnolent state, adds two and two together to make “rapids.” I’m not kidding; when you get attached to the way you always do things, you are in big trouble. The universe arranges disasters for people like you.

Of course, doing something backward takes too much time and is hopelessly contrived. But it’s precisely the annoyance you feel about it that I’m trying to provoke. You’re dying; all these habits, unjostled, will make your life so boring you won’t want to live it anymore, and then you really will buy the red sports car and leave your spouse for someone who can’t name all four Beatles.

What a shame that would be, not to mention a huge cliché and a load of grief that could so easily have been avoided just by wearing unmatched socks once in a while, mowing the lawn in figure eights, eating lemon meringue pie for breakfast, and taking an occasional overnight flight to Mallorca.

—This essay originally appeared as a radio reading on Station KVMR in Nevada City, California.

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