Today I went to a new neighbourhood just to drive around and see a suburban downtown area. Noticing little details about it that were rather ordinary, I was surprised at why it still made me so happy. I realized that every time we travel to a new city or a place, we observe it in so much more detail. I remember the first time we visited the city that I now live in, we noticed all the street signs, store and restaurant names and population demographics. We would say out loud everything we saw – Oh, look, Walmart… Dunkin’ Donuts… McDonald’s… Church… another Dunkin’ Donuts… While visiting New York City, we even made up a game of cheering every time we saw Dunkin’ Donuts.
The first time around, we look at everything with heightened interest and awareness – kind of like with rose coloured glasses. After a while, it becomes normal and part of our routine to the point that our daily commute becomes an automatic task. What we now notice is traffic and what we now think about is what we’re going to be doing that evening or that weekend. When we start going through our daily life on ‘autopilot’ we miss a lot of small things that can add more interest and meaning to our day.
We can avoid missing out on our present moment by always keep trying to do something new, for example, go somewhere new, take a different route, try a new dish or just sit down and listen to our parent/spouse/kid tell that story for the 57th time with a new perspective (we may finally understand why they love telling that story). One of the reasons we live on autopilot is because our brains are wired to pick up on patterns and generalize things, which can be helpful at times; however, in order to stay sharp and keep our minds fresh, we should approach everything as if it were for the first time.