Think about the actions that make up your day. It can be a bit terrifying to realize how little of it is conscious. A huge chunk of your daily actions are performed on autopilot. You don’t even think about them at all.
For example, how many actions does it take in the morning before you do diverge from your daily defaults? My guess is that the number is shockingly high. That’s because our morning routine is so habitual that you could be an automaton. The familiar path of waking up, checking our devices, using the bathroom, and making breakfast is one that nearly all of us have. We execute this ritual over and over. It doesn’t feel like a choice. It’s just what we do every day.
The truth is that these defaults aren’t only present in our morning routines. In fact, they tend to be spread out along our entire day.
Defaults cluster together. James Clear writes about this on both his site and his book Atomic Habits. If you look at the morning routine, it’s likely that one default leads naturally to the next. We become better at acting on our defaults when they are bunched together because they reinforce one another.
There’s nothing wrong with defaults. They enable us to do a bunch of things without thinking too much about them. When used correctly, defaults can help us automate actions that we want to take. Good defaults are aligned with our long term goals and desires.
The problem is that our defaults were installed for a variety of reasons, with only one specific instance being a conscious choice.
Here are a few reasons why a default may exist in your life.
- You were lazy, and the way the environment was set up allowed you to exploit that laziness. It was the easiest thing to do, so you did it. Now, the default is there because you never spent the time to correct that initial lazy behaviour.
- You chose to “install” it. You thought about what you wanted to do more regularly in your life and you decided that investing the time to create this default was worth it.
- You never thought about this default, and it was a simple result of being in a particular environment. This is similar to laziness, except that you never even questioned the default. It was just what you always did. This can come from your upbringing or your social group.
- Someone else imposed this default in your life. This is the most troublesome of all reasons, because it shows that your defaults aren’t even yours. Rather, depending on who you allow to influence you, your defaults can reflect the values that others have.
This last point is worth exploring in a bit more detail. Think about the things you do every day or the patterns of thought that cycle in your head. How did they get there? It might be disturbing to think about, but there are undoubtedly defaults that come from other people. And often, they are from people who want the best for you. This can include your parents and your best friends. They all have your best interests at heart, but they also affect how you think.
It’s then worth reflecting on if these patterns of thought and action are healthy and what you want to be doing with your life. It’s one thing to have a default from someone else, but it’s another to keep doing it if you don’t want it.
Do you like your defaults?
It’s a question we should all be asking ourselves regularly. We might not have realized the defaults that were present in our lives beforehand, but once you start thinking about them, there’s no excuse anymore. You’re aware, and now you are making a choice.
You can choose to do nothing even if you don’t like your defaults, but that is being lazy. The work comes in facing those defaults with courage and being willing to stand up for what you want out of your life. Examining each of those defaults with a critical but kind eye is what you need if you want to craft a life with the defaults that you want.
After all, our defaults are going to describe a good portion of our days. They will contain the rhythm of our lives, so it’s worth being certain that the set of defaults you carry around (whether actions or thoughts) is one you are happy with.
(By the way, I highly recommend James Clear’s book. If there’s one thing you will take away from the book, it’s that defaults control much of your life. Make sure you are happy with them.)