It is hard to do new things. It is hard to do things differently. We humans love patterns. We love the familiar. Familiarity feels comfortable, cozy, and pleasant. It feels safe. Yet growth and progress inevitably means that we must do things that are new. The very fact that they are new means that they will be different — something we have never done or experienced before. The buildings we build, the materials we use daily, the patterns and rituals of our existence need to morph and transform to fit a sustainable model. How can we manage all of this growth, when all we want to do is crawl back into the cocoon of the comfortable?
Understanding the problem in this way sheds light onto it immediately. If we know that we love the comfortable, why not disguise the new as something familiar? Technology has used this mind hack for decades. We all use “desktops” and “folders” to organize our computerized offices. The green movement does this in a sense, because it conforms to old systems and ways of operating instead of breaking molds and doing things drastically differently. For example, the design of the electric car is very similar to gas powered cars, though the design constraints are very different. This hack allows people to feel unconsciously comfortable with the car, because it conforms to their existing ideas about how a car should look.
Understanding the problem is helpful, but it doesn’t mean we can overlook or bypass it. You might think that once you see how the human psychological love for the familiar is holding you back, that you could just ‘switch it off’ and move forward with out catering to it. This is not so. Just because we see the problem does not mean we outgrow it automatically. Things like this take time.
For now, it is best to use the understanding in order to foster growth. Yes, this might mean letting our human selves take comfort in the familiar. The thing is, we can infuse the familiar with progressive attributes, tricking ourselves and being more sustainable at the same time.
The technology at our fingertips in this day is capable of doing so much more than we allow it to. We have accumulated knowledge and databases that have the power to help us accomplish more than we can even imagine at this point. We can understand ourselves and our emotions on a whole new level. For example, did you know that the super-intelligence behind a light-hearted “Ask Bongo” text messaging service can give you psychological insight about your relationships, based on a powerful software and a huge database? There is so much to learn from the data that the world wide web and our now interconnected information age can provide.
Loving what is familiar sounds somewhat lazy, doesn’t it? You might think, ‘well, others might get stuck in their comfort zone, but not me!’ Take a moment to examine this belief. Sustainability and the green movement counts on individual participation in order to effect worldwide change.
Look at your own behaviors, and you might get some insight into how deep this truth really is. Do you feel comforted by your routine, and by things you feel that you know? If you can’t answer that question, look at the data in your life. Your bank account might show a pattern: grocery store, housing, the same restaurants. The same flow of money in and money out, like a tide rising and falling. That is a pattern reflecting the way you cling to the familiar!
Only our limited perspectives, and our love for the familiar and safe hold us back. Understanding the way we value and hold on to the familiar is just one step towards growth.