I know that I can get stuck in one way of thinking, I wash the dishes in a certain order, I plant my veggies in rows and I like a clean desk and house before I start working on a writing assignment. I’ve developed habits and routines and feel uncomfortable when I have to veer from them.
However effective habits are though, the ability to look at things in a new way, from different angles and unique perspectives is part of how square pegs fit into round holes, how humans will develop technology to clean up our oceans, and how the nature of a mushroom to create networks under ground can be used as a theme for space travel in a TV series. It’s what saves worlds and lays hope at our feet.
I have always driven our small utility trailer into the driveway in a specific direction, clockwise around the cul-de-sac and then clumsily reversing into our narrow driveway after making several adjustments backwards and forwards to line it up between our two brick pillars. I’ve done it many times because John isn’t quite as good or confident at it as I am. Although I get better each time I do it, it is still challenging because of the large shrubbery on the opposite side of the road blocking me from a smooth and direct approach. I keep wondering if I should come out in the dark of the night and chop the bush down.
But then this past weekend, I look out the window as John is coming down our road in the truck, pulling the trailer. He does not like driving with the trailer and has only been in the pilot seat two times before. I expect him to call me when he can’t get through the gates. Imagine my surprise when he takes the cul-de-sac in a counterclockwise direction.
“John,” I yelled, smashing the new thermometer I got him for Christmas as I slid open the window. “Stop, you have to go the other way.”
He didn’t hear me and kept on going. I yelled again.
Selective hearing? Counterclockwise? I stood there shaking my head, muttering to no one that he was going the wrong way.
And then an amazing thing happened. As he completes the circle, in the wrong direction, the car and trailer lineup to the driveway. In my head I playback what I just saw. He went in the opposite direction as I have always taken. Why? Because he likes turning right? Because he wanted to do it differently? It was a beautiful thing.
I like turning left. I’ve gotten into that habit when I want to back the car into our driveway. I don’t think I’ve even tried it the other way. But John just demonstrated a better way, a much better way, and it got me to thinking about so many things I get stuck doing and thinking about because that is how I learned how, or that is how I’ve always done it.
All I had to do was drive counterclockwise and I would not have wasted so much time backing the trailer into the yard, making myriad adjustments, back and forth, back and forth, hoping and praying the neighbours weren’t watching.
How many other areas of my life could do with a similar perspective adjustment? I’m now looking at my garden with different eyes, how I manage the office with fresh new ideas, how I create an agility course path for Willie that fits both our needs, and how we can retire without a pension!
Instead of planting in rows, I’m observing how the plants in my yard can work better symbiotically, like rhubarb beside the blueberries to keep the weeds down, perennials like lovage, sorrel and self seeding kale to act as ground coverand timers on the hoses to cut down on watering time. At the office, I sat in a waiting room chair to see what our patients saw and decided to hang lovely and colourful artwork rather than posters. Instead of having Willie take a jump from one direction, I walked around to the other side of it and considered what it looked like from that new angle and how we could work it from there.
Suddenly, more possibilities and opportunities presented themselves. I felt invigorated and renewed and the world became a more exciting place to live.
“You went the wrong way in the cup-de-sac to back the trailer in,” I told John when he came in the house, “that was brilliant.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he retorted, immediately assuming a criticism. “I got it to the driveway, didn’t I? Wait, what do you mean by brilliant?”
Laughing, I told him he didn’t need to take offence I was telling him he did a good job, that I had become so stagnant in the way I did this simple task that I had become blind to other, better strategies. He just showed me a better way.
“I kept turning left, John, and struggled getting the trailer lined up properly. You drove into the cul-de-sac, got it lined up to back into the driveway in one smooth turn. I never thought of driving around the circle to the right.”
It’s easy, as we age, to develop a set way of looking at and doing things. We like our routine. But part of becoming better is acknowledging that we need to continuously expand our mental skills and explore new things. That has to include opening to the possibility of looking at a challenge or problem from different perspectives. If we don’t, we’ll never see the excitement in a new idea, feel the thrill of solving a complex problem or be enlightened by a simple course adjustment.
When John got over his shock at my praise for his driving, he gave me a hug, thanked me and then handed the keys over so I could finish the job.