My Thoughts on Escaping the Normalcy Bias and Trying New Things

Sometimes you just need a little reminder to take risks.

It’s human nature to develop patterns and routines. We do it so often, without thought to reason or consequence. These patterns minimize the amount of energy that we need to complete a task. Take for example grocery shopping: there are thousands of items and multiple brands to choose from at the grocery store. If we had to compare each item and think deeply on each choice we make at grocery store, soon we’d all go bananas.

But sometimes we need to embark on trying something new. And when we do, we recognize that trying something new requires more energy, more effort and commitment.

Today, I was tired. I worked most of this weekend and didn’t want to open my computer up to write this blog post. Earlier in the day, I took a stab at writing a piece on minimalism and it was pretty crap. I figured I might have to skip the article this Sunday. But something urged me to at least give it a try in earnest. So here I am.

There is a point.

The point is, that there are tons of reasons to keep up the status quo. Our human brains work very hard to perceive the world as normal and unchanging which we call the normalcy bias. Change is scary because in our primitive times change and the unknown were very dangerous. Our species excelled at predicting outcomes; it’s what helped us take over the planet. But these days, we don’t listen to predictions about the climate because for most of us in Toronto, our lives are hardly affected by pollution, forest degradation, extreme weather events, etc … In fact, our lives are enhanced by the very industries that create these global problems.

There is also the fact that it seems unlikely that something I do will make a difference. If the planet truly is as messed up as I think it is, then this article is a waste of time. This whole blog is waste of time. What difference could it make? There is no guarantee that it will make any difference at all but there is something powerful about putting in effort and taking a risk to do what you think is right.

At the end of that day, all we can do is try.

I’d like to quote Wangari Maathai who tells an Indigenous South American story about a hummingbird who tries to save its home from burning in a fire. I first read about this story in David Suzuki’s book, Letters to My Grandchildren, and I found it so beautifully, simple:

“The story of the hummingbird is about this huge forest being consumed by a fire. All the animals in the forest come out and they are transfixed as they watch the forest burning and they feel very overwhelmed, very powerless, except this little hummingbird. It says, ‘I’m going to do something about the fire!’ So it flies to the nearest stream and takes a drop of water. It puts it on the fire, and goes up and down, up and down, up and down, as fast as it can.

In the meantime all the other animals, much bigger animals like the elephant with a big trunk that could bring much more water, they are standing there helpless. And they are saying to the hummingbird, ‘What do you think you can do? You are too little. This fire is too big. Your wings are too little and your beak is so small that you can only bring a small drop of water at a time.’

But as they continue to discourage it, it turns to them without wasting any time and it tells them, ‘I am doing the best I can.’” (quoted from ‘The Kid Should Read This’ website and a clip from Dirt! The Movie)

‘I am doing the best I can.’

David Suzuki didn’t know that he was going to become ‘David Suzuki’, the face of the environmental movement in Canada and beyond. However, we can all stand up for what we believe in and we can make a difference. We won’t know how profound a difference we might make until we put in the effort and commit to giving it a try.

If you’ve been ignoring a tiny voice in your head, telling you to try something radical, to make a change or fight for something you believe in, let this be a reminder that you don’t have to do it all at once. That you don’t have to create radical change overnight or over many nights.

You just need to give it a try.

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