May 31

Have You Ever Noticed…?

In Brief— To conserve energy, our brains have developed ways to automate certain actions done frequently. This piece reveals some of the actions you carry out without really noticing. Oh, and there’s a bit about Social Security.


Automatic Pilot—

We go through life to a substantial degree on automatic pilot. We give thought to what we will wear to a party or what numbers belong in the day’s Sudoku puzzle, but very little if any thought to how we brush our teeth. So I ask if you’ve ever noticed the mundane actions you carry out so often that they’ve etched a groove deep in your subconscious. There may have been a reason for doing something a certain way initially, but we don’t even notice these actions any more. This list will force you to take notice.

Here we go…

  •  Have you ever noticed how you brush your teeth? Vertically or horizontally? (Which does your dentist recommend or do you even know?)
  •  Do you chew predominantly on the right or left side of your mouth?
  •  When you eat artichoke leaves, do you scrape the meat off the leaf with your upper or your lower front teeth? Don’t tell me you have never eaten an artichoke.
  •  Which side of the bed do you prefer? The side with your spouse/partner to your left as you lie on your back or to your right? If you sleep in single beds in the same room, the same question. I have a friend who switches sides just so the habit won’t be formed. Must drive the spouse nuts.
  •  When you are in a hotel room, which bed or side of the bed do you choose? Closest to the door or to the window?
  •  Which leg goes into your jeans or trousers first? Left or right?
  •  Which shoe do you put on first? Right or left?
  • Remember the classic argument between Archie and Meathead? Do you put a sock and then a shoe on one foot followed by the same on the other foot? Or do you put on both socks and then both shoes? Those who remember Archie and Meathead are members of my generation.
  • Assuming you don’t wear step-ins or loafer-type shoes, which way do you tie your shoes? Which shoe do you tie first left or right? Recall the TED segment on the correct way to tie your shoes so the laces won’t come undone. You don’t recall? Check the September 2013 Archives for TED Talks.
  •  If you are a male, do you put your coins in the right or left front pocket? Your wallet in the left or right rear pocket?
  • When you get in the car to go somewhere, do you put on the seat belt before you get under way or only when you are already rolling? Or do you put it on at all?
  • When you use the toilet, are you a “wadder” or a “folder” with the toilet paper? I had a friend who carefully folded the paper he planned to use and lined them up on his thighs. He was an engineer, by the way.

These are only a few of the automatic actions most of us rely on to give our brains permission to focus on more serious matters. You can probably think of a bunch not listed here. Let me know what they are. Maybe together we can come up with enough to warrant Part 2 of “Have You Ever Noticed…?

Political Addendum—

But enough of the mundane, no blog piece would be complete without a little political observation. Therefore…

  • Have you ever noticed why, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority wants a measure of fairness in the Social Security System, the idea of expanding the “Cap” to cover ALL income (let alone investment income) disappears into a Black Hole not to be heard of again? Ever wonder why this is? By the way, I can tell you why if you ask. Well, it’s up to us to push it back onto the public stage again…and again until it becomes law. Or we can bend over and let the richies continue diddling us. If you need a refresher, I suggest you reread my October 2013 piece titled “Social Security-The Truth.”

Whether mundane or political, I have no doubt that readers can add to this subject. Get involved. Do it.


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  1. So, I worked as a toy designer from 1992 to 2000. I had a commute of 32 miles each way on a two lane road marked on the map as a ‘Scenic Byway’. With trees and rolling hills for the entire length of the trip, one or two buildings, and no stop signs or signals along the way.
    I used to become aware upon arriving home nearly each night that I could not recall one inch of the drive after the first mile or so. Apparently my brain disengaged from the active awareness of driving and went off into La La Land, where, I’d like to think, it performed more important tasks. But, God only knows what they where……I can’t remember.
    In addition, I very often solve problems or come up with my best ideas after going to bed and often, after falling asleep. I used to keep a pencil and paper by the bed-side to jot down my inspirations. So, I assume that the rigors of the day create too much clutter in my mind to be efficient and that the peace of the night and of sleep allow my lingering issues to find solutions. Apparently I, for one, am too fixated on which way I brush my teeth, put on my pants, and tie my shoes to put full brain power into solving real problems while otherwise conscious…. 😉

      • Don Bay on May 31, 2014 at 19:17

      You have just added to the actions most of us carry out subconsciously: driving a familiar route repeatedly. Let’s hope that others will contribute their own experiences. If enough readers join in, there may be enough for a Part 2.

      Query: have you always been so conscious of the way you brush your teeth, put on your jeans and tie your shoes? I’m sure this says something about the way you come at life, but I’m no psychologist, so I don’t know. Maybe that’s why you and I get along so well.

    1. My most creative moments tend to be in the tub or the shower. Maybe it has something to do with the warm water. Or maybe my brain stays too busy with these things that are supposed to be automatic. :-/

        • Don Bay on June 2, 2014 at 11:40

        Immersion in a warm bath will do it every time. One’s conscious mind surrenders to the warmth and allows us to enter our fantasy realm where we spin tales that entertain us as well as others. As a writer, you get to build the structures of a story while letting go of more mundane preoccupations. It can happen in the tub or in a car or anywhere. The brain lets go of the thoughts that clutter up our daily lives and lets us wander freely.

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