Wake up your brain

Recently I spent a week working in London. Whenever I’m there, I worry briefly each day about death.

“How did he die?” people would ask about my demise.

“Oh,” someone would say, “he was crossing the street and looked left instead of right.”

Do you ever look the wrong way? And we’re not just talking about crossing the street.

You can, for example, look without seeing. Let’s say you’re speaking to a group—you can look at the audience as a whole, but never really see (or connect with) individuals.

Or you can look at a familiar colleague or an old friend, but never really see them, because you’re too stuck in your past perceptions of who they are.


My wife says I have the unusual ability to look in the refrigerator and never really see anything.

“We’re out of mustard,” I tell her.

“No,” she says, “it’s right there, on the door.”

And it is, although just seconds ago, it wasn’t. Things in our refrigerator disappear, then suddenly reappear. I’m the only one who notices this.

At the London office, the refrigerator had “British semi skimmed milk.” In plain sight. If you put something like that in our frig, it would vanish instantly.

Travel makes you look and see. It pushes you out of your time zone, past jet lag, right into the here-and-now.


Back home, it’s easy to stop seeing and fall into a mindless routine. Everything looks familiar.

The truth is, I love mindless routines. I even had one in London. Every day before work, I went running. Same route: over the Millennium bridge, then left. Left takes you along the river, through short tunnels and down narrow, cobbled streets.

Left became comfortable. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, left, left, left. Finally, on Thursday, right. (I’d like to report that right was better; it wasn’t.)

Unfortunately, you can’t go abroad every time you need to wake up. But you can break routine.

The other day, back in Boston, I was driving home, using the traffic app, Waze. Almost home, Waze said something surprising. “In 1,000 feet, turn right on Sunset Road.”


Really? I’d never heard of that road.

“Yes, turn right, you idiot,” I imagined Waze replying, “and stop questioning my judgment.”

So I turned right. I saw something new.

Tip: Every now and then, break routine and turn right. See what you see.

© Copyright 2015 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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