Something I’m working on: embracing the idea that I’m going to forget almost everything, almost all of the time. With that in mind, what can I do so that even when I forget to create good, the baseline is already good all by itself?
In programming, this is the practice of creating helpful defaults. A piece of code is often customizable (if it’s for sending email, for example, you’d need to feed it a recipient address, a subject line, etc), but there are often things that are optionally customizable (not every email needs a cc or a bcc)—and for those things, it’s up to the coder to set reasonable defaults (reasonable: nobody is cc’d by default; unreasonable, probably: Eddie Izzard is cc’d by default).
This shows up everywhere in life. Anytime I’m not doing something on purpose, a default takes the stage. If I’m not thinking about what I’m wearing in the morning, I’ll wear what I’m used to wearing, I’ll do what I’m used to doing, and – critically – I’ll feel the way I’m used to feeling.
A poorly-chosen default is debilitating, like a thermostat that resets to an unlivable temperature at 3am. A well-chosen default is liberating, like coming home to a place that feels like you.
Life is mostly defaults, I think, maintaining our momentum in whatever direction we’re facing. We do get a choice, on all of this, but exercising that choice requires awareness and effort – and we’ve got a limited supply of those on any given day. I can’t reasonably expect myself to be making conscious choices every moment of the day, but I can make conscious choices about setting my defaults. And those choices have an effect over and over and over again, every time the default is revisited.
My relationship with Abe: a positive, helpful, life-giving default. My food habits: healthy defaults. The people I interact with on a regular basis: each person is someone I’ve chosen to be a part of my day-to-day defaults. And because all of these defaults set me up really well, when I do need to exercise conscious choice, I am primed to choose well! I’m used to feeling supported by my environment, and so I make choices that are grounded in trust and optimism. I’m used to feeling healthy and rested, so I make choices based on the best of me, not the worst of me. And get this: as much as I’m describing an act of “choice”, even that process is inherently filled with defaults in the form of bias. My prior defaults have pointed my attention in a certain direction, attuned me to certain elements and ideas – and so when I do make a choice, even that is informed and supported by my defaults.
The defaults I have now were established slowly – beginning with one small and quiet hopeful choice, fifteen years ago, from the silent dark of deep depression. And then, more, and better, and lighter, feeling my way for understanding in a moment, and then assigning that understanding to a default, where it could serve me again when I forgot to remember. This is what I’m doing here, in every moment I can: finding the light in the one thing I can focus on at a time, and leaving that dial set, as I turn my attention to the next.