We are truly creatures of habit. We do things the same way over and over in order to simplify our lives. And for the most part that is good. It can be comforting as well as efficient. Yet at the same time, it can blind us to opportunity for improvement.
I was reminded of this just last week when, because of a home improvement project, I had to park in the front of my home and enter the front door instead of the garage. Not usually approaching my home from this direction, I saw several “opportunities” staring me in the face starting with the snow shovel conveniently propped by the front door in a constant state of readiness for the next Wisconsin snow storm. It made perfect sense in January – March, but had now taken up permanent residence because it had become just a part of my husbands “permanent” landscape. We have no need for a snow shovel in late May. Seeing me move the shovel, he commented, “Oh my gosh, I forgot all about that. I’m so used to it being there that it just didn’t register anymore.” We both had a chuckle over that and did a quick walkthrough to see what else we might be missing and that our neighbors were wondering about.
But that’s the way the human brain works. Habituation makes us see right past things after a while because they become part of our normal experience. That’s one of the reasons our mystery shopping service is so valuable to our healthcare clients. A pair of fresh eyes can pick out things that may make your patients and visitors uneasy but that you don’t even notice anymore. I cannot tell you how many times our clients have seen photos from our mystery shoppers and been totally bewildered asking, “Where is that?” or, “How did that get there?” In one situation, no one had noticed that they had placed a Dead End sign right next to a sign for their new, $50,000,000 senior living center. Talk about the obvious staring you right in the face!
My husband has his own twist on an old adage to explain this. He says, “Out of mind, out of sight,” explaining that because he no longer thinks about something being out of place, he no longer sees it. I have a little different term for this phenomenon but that’s a topic for another day.
In order to see things with fresh eyes, ask someone from another department to do a walkthrough of your department and give you feedback about their impressions. Walk through a different entryway today or take a different route to the cafeteria. Breaking your routine helps open your eyes. Another great resource is your new employees. Their fresh perspective can be invaluable. And when you get feedback from others, be careful not to become defensive. Just because “it’s always been done that way” doesn’t make it logical to a new observer. Open your eyes, and who knows, you may just find your own snow shovel staring you in the face.