Back when I was a professor, I was appointed the chair of a faculty committee.
At the time, the committee had a decades-old practice of holding meetings every month. Having sat through—no, suffered through—these meetings as a junior committee member, I knew we could cut the number in half and still get the job done.
So I decided to convene the committee every two months instead of every month.
One of the members was upset. He said: “You’re making a mistake. We need to meet every month.”
“Why?” I asked. “What’s the purpose of meeting every month?”
“We’ve always done it that way,” he reiterated and then walked away.
We’ve always done it that way. Few things get me as riled up as that sentence.
We have little idea how we ended up here—we just know we’re here—so we keep going. We choose things out of habit, not intention. We get stuck in our rehearsed way of operating in the world, holding our proverbial committee meetings every month without pausing to ask why.
In a very real sense, our past becomes our future. What we chose before dictates what we do today. We drag ourselves into the same predictable tomorrow by reliving yesterday.
When I find myself in this position, there’s a simple question I ask to jolt me awake: Why am I doing this? What’s the purpose of it? And is it actually serving the purpose it’s supposed to serve?
Does your weekly status meeting have a clear purpose? Or are you holding the meeting because it’s easier to keep doing what you’ve always done (and avoid having a difficult conversation with that one person who enjoys having the meeting)?
Is there a reason why your water glasses are in that difficult-to-reach cabinet? Or is it because you just happened to put them there when you first moved in?
Is your brainstorming session just a place for people to sound smart? Or is it actually producing valuable ideas and tangible decisions?
I used to check my email first thing every morning. I’d then end up spending the most creative hour of my day solving other people’s problems. I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” There was no good reason for it, so I stopped. My mornings are now spent doing creative work on my writing and speaking projects. Emails wait until the afternoon.
The status quo—what you do regularly—often replaces thinking. It becomes the thing. People end up blindly following it, instead of intentionally questioning it.
Remember: The rules are not set in stone.
The default can be altered.
A new path can be forged.
If you’re honest about why you’re doing what you’re doing, the possibility for change emerges.
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