Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.  —Leo Tolstoy

L ast week, I experienced my first order of avocado toast. Normally, I’m a wheat toast and honey kind of guy.  Eggs and bacon or pancakes are far more likely to be on my plate than toasted bread laden with guacamole. Joanna Gaines, Waco’s design luminary planted the avocado toast suggestion during an episode of Fixer Upper and I acted upon it months later when I noticed it on a menu. It was pretty good.

My experiment with avocado toast made me think about my youthful career as a finicky eater. If something didn’t look, smell, or feel just right, there was no way I was going to try it. Interestingly, my preferences, and my willingness to try new things, changed over time. Sure, I still like some things better than others but I enjoy most food. Did my tastes change or did my mind change?

The Tried-and-True

We tend to stick with the tried-and-true. We like the proven. We know what to expect and we like what we know. Why fix something that isn’t broken? What we don’t realize is the degree to which our mind controls our preferences. Sometimes something new seems appealing and other times it doesn’t. Why? Are we completely at the mercy of hard-wired preferences? If our mind controls our likes and dislikes, what controls our mind?

Growing up, I hated onions. And beans. And Brussels sprouts. Actually, I had a pretty short list of acceptable food options. My distaste for onions was likely an initial distaste for their crunchiness in an omelette that then became reinforced by my father who worked tirelessly  to convince me that it was in my mind – even occasionally surreptitiously adding onions to an omelette feeling that I wouldn’t notice. Sure, there are still some things that I generally avoid because of youthful food trauma but I’ve discovered over time that those same things can be prepared in ways that appeal. I only discovered that by choosing to try them again. Chili, Brussels sprouts, beans – things that I abhorred earlier in my life have become not only tolerable but quite enjoyable.

Choice and Change

We may believe that we are subject to our preferences, but we condition our mind to retain them – we chose. Consider trends. How we react to trends is greatly influenced by our perception of others. A celebrity we like wears a pair of shoes and those shoes become appealing to us – even if we didn’t initially like the look of them. On the other hand, a pair of shoes we found appealing may lose that appeal if we see them on someone we dislike – someone we don’t chose. We chose who to follow. We select our heroes and our mavens. We decide to buy-in or not. Trends and beliefs don’t choose us.

Our resistance to change is hardwired to help protect us. Why risk changing when it might lead to something worse? In our youth, we are conditioned to fear change by a brutal high school education process that introduces constant change – classes, classrooms, teachers, friends, buildings, all continually changing at a time when we are experiencing seismic shifts in our own adolescence. Later, we learn more fear of change as we experience the trauma of loss: jobs, people, money, pets, etc. Pain is a powerful inhibitor to change but it is through change that we grow. How we manage that change determines our ability to effectively adapt throughout our lives and ultimately find joy in living.

Our Cow Paths

Some of us are more inclined towards change though that inclination tends to decrease as we age. Where are you on the spectrum? Take a look at a month in your life:

  • What do you eat?
  • What roads do you drive?
  • To whom do you speak?
  • What is your routine? Does it change much week-to-week?
  • What do you read?
  • Where do you go?
  • What do you buy?
  • When was the last time you tried something new?

Routines are not a bad thing. They keep us safe. They help us maintain sanity and generally support our overall happiness. However, they also hold us in place, blind us to opportunities, and reinforce our natural fear of the unknown.

The Answer

What to do? Ultimately, the answer is balance. We thrive most when we balance our attraction to routine with a healthy curiosity in change. Like most edges, the line between routine and change holds significant tension but that is where we find an optimal life – the  path to personal growth supported by the foundation of experience and routine.

Last week, my avocado toast was new, uncertain, and delicious. My next experiment might not be as enjoyable but that is ok. The important thing is that I keep trying. Not because I want to throw out my wheat toast with honey, but because I see value in expanding the catalog of experiences that bring joy to my life.