I just learned how to tie my shoes.
Okay, okay, it’s not like I’ve been tripping over my laces for most of my life; I’ve known how to tie my shoes ever since I was five and figured out how to loop the bunny ears into each other (it would take another year before I learned my go-to, “the wrap-around”). But recently, I stumbled upon the TED Talk in which scientist Terry Moore demonstrates, in less than three minutes, the proper way to tie a shoe to ensure that it remains tied. And straight.
I’ve done it. It works. My shoes stay tied. They look straighter and, if I do say so, cuter. And if anyone was bothering to look down at my feet (they’re not), they’d probably notice a little more pep in my step.
All too often, I’ve believed there’s only one way to do a thing. One solution. My single-mindedness even extends to what I order at a restaurant—if one of my favorite local joints makes something other than a skirt steak sandwich with gorgonzola, arugula, and garlic mayo I am completely unaware of it.
I’m predictable. Maybe you are, too. There’s a comfort in “one way” thinking. We figured out the one way to tie our shoes, bake a soufflé, do our job, raise a kid, get across Midtown during rush hour. It can feel affirming. Or it’s an exercise in sheer stubbornness, borne out of the binary belief that there is only one right way to do something. Anything else is either wrong or dead-wrong.
Looking down at my shoes, I felt the door on my belief system crack open a little. What else needs a second look? Soon, I saw a video of an Eastern European circus where at least a dozen French Mastiffs were performing tricks—laying down, hurdling over each other, rolling over in unison, all on command. Their faces and bodies were near identical to the Beast, though their energy, readiness, and follow-thru might have made them an entirely different species from him. Sure, the Beast knows words like “sit,” “shake,” and “excuse me,” but sees them as optional requests rather than commands. He’s 130-pounds of one-way stubborn.
I grabbed a handful of doggie snacks and headed outside with the intention of teaching him to bark on command–it is an impressive bark. A curious Beast followed closely behind. Once there, I turned around, held up a treat and said “sit.”
I said “paw.”
He raised his paw.
I said “speak.”
He tilted his head.
“Speak!” I repeated, dangling the cookie above him.
Again, no response.
“Woof!” I barked. “Woof! Woof!” I figured a demonstration would help him understand exactly what I was asking him. Soon, I was barking as ferociously as if an intruder had just entered my backyard. The Beast stayed quiet, eyeing the treat just inches from his face.
Then he jumped up and grabbed it from my fingers.
Clearly, there was another way to look at this situation. Beast had figured this out and was now happily munching away at the treat.
I raised my arm, holding another treat high above. “Up!” I shouted instead. I’m sure you can guess how the rest of this goes. Beast happily gulped his snacks and, if only for a moment, I entertained the idea of one day having my own Eastern European dog circus.
It’s comforting to think we got it right, that with structure comes productivity. We tie ourselves (sometimes literally) to what is known. But there are times when it’s refreshing—and even necessary—to break our patterns and upend our limited thinking. It’s more than tying our shoes or teaching an old dog new tricks. It’s stepping outside our comfort zone, opening ourselves to things we never even considered, letting go of our excuses to make way for possibility. When we dump the “can’t,” we suddenly can.
What discovery did you make that changed your thinking?