The young recruit stood at attention as his drill sergeant outlined his activities for the next several days. He and his fellow recruits’ first order of business was to learn to make their beds. Not “just” make their beds but make their beds to very specific instructions. This exercise was followed by a series of other activities that could only be classified as ‘daily living activities’- care of clothes, maintaining an organized foot locker, how to dress appropriately, how to stand upright and the list goes on. The officer in charge indicated that each day would begin with an inspection to be sure each of the new recruits maintained their living quarters and their personal image in a responsible manner. Everything has a place and everything is in its place was the prevailing philosophy.
This past spring Navy Admiral William McCraven (Commander of Navy Seals) gave the commencement address at the University of Texas and his first comment to the graduates was “if you want to change the world start each day by making your bed. It should be the first task of the day, because it encourages you to do another task—little things matter.” If you can’t do the little things right you will never be able to do big things right.
Both of the above illustrations have their roots in neuroscience and brain function. The brain begins at birth the process of organizing the stimuli it receives and catalogs them neurologically for reference. With the passing of time the brain takes this stimuli and creates a series of behaviors that are almost automatic. It is noteworthy, for those of us who are referred to as “seniors,” one of the first things we observe in the aging process is our auto-pilot begins to not function as well as it once did. Now take this same thought and apply to the person, child or adult, who never programs the brain for those activities but basically lives in chaos. The brain does not have a reference point and the thought process evolves into random thoughts. A classic example is the parent who at the end of the day picks up all the toys distributed by their child throughout the day, in essence depriving the child the opportunity to establish a platform of cause-and -effect. Equally concerning is the kindergarten teacher who spends the afterschool period replacing all the books, toys, etc. the children have used during the day–what message is she teaching. What about the teenager who has no organizational structure in his/her life, and the adult or parent makes the comment, “he has to ‘find’ himself and learn to be responsible–who is the adult or the parent in this scenario. A much larger example can be found in the household without any type of order and is basically a place of chaos.
The aforementioned activities were illustrated beautifully in the recent movie ‘Intern’ starring Robert Dinero. The movie depicted a thriving business made of employees in the 20-30 age range. The workplace was chaotic and production was slipping. Dinero had been hired as a result of a program reaching out to senior citizens. He, Dinero, was a firm believer in maintaining organization and procedures in a kind and gentle manner. He was what we called today ‘old school.’ It was only through his gentle leading and example of bringing order out of chaos the company was saved.
It is important to you the reader you do not interpret the illustrations as being a “control freak”, quite the opposite. As strange as it may sound the order we are discussing is developing neural passageways that become a platform from which you live.
“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits,” William James wrote in 1892. Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making or the lack thereof, but they are not . They’re habits.” Have you stopped to consider the tremendous power habits—good and bad, large and small—have on your character, your life, your relationships, your health and your future?
It is generally agreed in the world of conditional learning that it takes between 15 to 20 days to break a habit and form a new habit. Let me encourage you to remove the chaos from your daily life and let it begin with your personal living space. Whether you take the ‘make your bed’ phrase literally or as a metaphor either way you will have to sleep in it.