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Force of Habit
Evolution is an ever-present force in our lives. And doing things out of habit rather than necessity will render us obsolete.
ld habits die hard. I was reminded of this just the other day, while moving into my new home and getting a newfangled TV up and running. The so-called "smart TV" includes all kinds of features I'll likely never know how to use, and I must admit I was feeling ever-so-slightly overwhelmed by it.

Among the TV's many features and applications, I immediately recognized and understood how to use one of them: the remote control. I grasped it firmly, confidently, and pointed it at the television. "You don't need to do that," said my tech-savvy partner, Dave. Apparently, even the remote has evolved since I last bought a new set. This one, I'm told, is a wireless radio-frequency remote that doesn't need to be pointed in the direction of the TV. But a week after that initial installation, I was still catching myself craning and contorting into less-than-ergonomic positions to point the device's signal directly at the screen. Why? Force of habit.

The rather mundane realization made me wonder what other things we continue to do, out of habit, that are unnecessary, inefficient, or even counterproductive. So I did as I've been conditioned to do: I Googled.

According to Paul Jury, a contributor to the site Cracked.com whose personal tagline, according to his bio, is "never pee into a fan," there are several inefficient vestiges of vintage technologies we cling to without good reason. Take the 140-year-old QWERTY keyboard for example.

"When you rest your hands on the 'home row' ... check out what keys you're touching. Besides A and S, you're looking at a conga line of some of the least-used letters in the English language and possibly the least useful punctuation mark of all time," writes Jury. "Your right index finger, the dominant finger on most people's dominant hand, is sitting on the goddamn J, which is worth 8 points in Scrabble for a reason – it's the fourth-least-used letter."

In fact, Jury explains that today's ubiquitous keyboard was originally designed, at least in part, to slow typists down and avoid jamming the clunky metal typewriter keys. So why are we still using it? Force of habit.

This habitual inefficiency is not limited to outdated technologies. While covering a trade show last year in Las Vegas, I had a conversation with an exhibit manager who had seen her trade show team shrink from four employees down to just her. After the layoffs, she identified each and every task previously completed by other employees and systematically added them to her to-do list. Before long, however, she identified redundancies and laughably outdated to-do items, including a metrics report being filed to a budgeting committee that no longer existed.

Don't get me wrong. Habits aren't necessarily bad things. They regularize our lives into processes and checklists that help us to turn previously foreign tasks into rote behaviors. And, in most cases, those habits result in efficiencies. But evolution is an ever-present and unstoppable force in our lives. And if we leave ourselves on autopilot for too long, doing things out of habit rather than necessity – or, more specifically, confusing our habits with necessities because that's how it's always been done – will render us obsolete. So before duplicating last year's list of shows, or churning out the same report you've been compiling for a decade, make sure your habits aren't getting in the way of what's really necessary.

Truth be told, I eventually came around to my new TV, even though I still occasionally long for those old, basic remote controls. The status quo will always feel comfortable, but change isn't as impossible as we might imagine. Old habits die hard, but they do die – as long as you're committed to killing them.

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