Habits can be a good thing, because they reduce the work our brain has to go through to make decisions. There’s research into decision fatigue, which shows that we have limits to the quantity, and quality, of our decisions before we need to recharge. It’s why you’ve heard of Mark Zuckerberg wearing the same t-shirt every day; reduce the decisions in your life that you deem inconsequential, and you’ve got more energy for the ones that you believe matter.
But what happens when you’ve put something on autopilot that is wrong or misguided?
I’m reminded of an anecdote you may have heard about a child learning to cook a pot roast from Mom. Mom cuts off the ends of the roast, and the child asks why. Mom replies that she’s not sure, it’s how her mother always did it. The child calls Grandma and asks why she cut the ends off the roast, and Grandma responds that she’s not sure, Great Grandma always did it that way, and that’s how she learned it. The child calls Great-Grandma (who is luckily alive and still well), and Great-Grandma replies, with fond recollection, that she never had a pan big enough to fit the whole roast, so she had to cut off the ends of the roast to cook it.
Has your pan changed but your perspective hasn’t?
Do yourself a favor. Identify something that you do at work just because that’s how you learned it, or because it’s how ‘everyone does it’, and ask why. Dig deep to understand the true answer. You may find that it’s actually the best way, but you might find that it’s not.
At work and in life we add nominal value by giving the right answers — we add immense value by asking the right questions.