On the same day last week, two kind colleagues sent unsolicited photos. In one, taken 21 years ago at Furman University, I am with my esteemed friend/encourager/adviser, Charles Brewer (who sadly died recently). The others were from a talk just given at Moraine Valley Community College.
I was a little embarrassed to see that in both I’m wearing, 21 years apart, the same Scottish green plaid tie and blue blazer with brass buttons (well, not the exact same blazer—I wore the first one out, but its replacement is identical).
How boring is that? And how boring is the life of this professor who, when not traveling, arises at 7:00 each morning, dresses (often with the same sweater from the day before) while watching the first ten minutes of the Today Show; bikes to work the same 3 blocks every day of the year (no matter the weather); begins the office day with prayer, email, and downloading political news for reading over breakfast in the campus dining hall; works till noontime exercise in the campus gym and . . . (enough of this). I know: very boring.
But consider the wisdom of mathematician/philosopher Alfred North Whitehead in his 1911 An Introduction to Mathematics:
Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. . . . By relieving the brain of all unnecessary work, a good notation sets it free to concentrate on more advanced problems, and in effect increases the mental power of the race.
Mark Zuckerberg follows Whitehead’s wisdom (and that of Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit)—by not wasting time deciding what shirt to wear each day. As I concluded a previous essay on the same theme, “Amid today’s applause for ‘mindfulness,’ let’s put in a word for mindlessness. Mindless, habitual living frees our minds to work on more important things than which pants to wear or what breakfast to order.” Or so I’d like to believe.
[Note to positive psych geeks: The 2018 version of my “Scientific Pursuit of Happiness” talk (given more than 200 times over the past 28 years) is available, courtesy of Moraine Valley, at tinyurl.com/MyersHappiness.]