I found myself saying this to someone the other day when describing how she warms up after swimming. Whether it’s jumping into icy cold granite pools, or floating around in a backyard pool, when my daughter is ready to warm-up she finds the nearest rock, concrete area, or sand patch and just stretches out.
I thought about this, and about how she always refuses the towel I pack and lug around for her, preferring instead to warm up naturally. It made me think about the difference between instinct and learned behavior.
I’ve lost my instinct to dry off naturally. If I’m wet, my first instinct is to grab a towel. I plan for that towel grab, bringing one whenever I may get wet, be it the pool, a rafting trip, the beach, or a hike. A whole industry has revolved around towel grabbers – from the cotton farmers, to the Martha Stewarts, there are people whose livelihood revolves around my experience of grabbing a towel to dry off being the best possible experience. They help reinforce this learned behavior that to dry off, one must have a towel.
Perhaps it’s a bit of influence from just having read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, but seeing my daughter drying off using her instincts, I thought “how efficient is that?” No carrying of towel required. No towel to launder after the fact.
We both achieve the end result of being warm and dry, but her instinct does it far more efficiently than my learned behavior. The only difference is the time it takes to dry off.
However, if you add in the time to purchase the towel, pack the towel, carry the towel, launder the towel, dry the towel, the perspective changes.
Sometimes in work and in life we make things harder than they need to be. We try to improve on instinctual behavior and in the process learn and adopt a more cumbersome way to behave. Sometimes the learned way is better, but sometimes it takes us far from our instincts, and ultimately just ends up costing us more time and money.
How often are you guided by your instincts versus a more cumbersome learned behavior? How often are your instincts improved by a learned behavior?