Knowledge does not Equal Understanding

The common expression about a person being “stuck in his ways” is correctly used to describe someone who can’t or won’t change his habits that he’s developed over time. But today, it seems we can easily apply this label to society as a whole when it comes to changing long-ingrained habits that are rapidly depleting our planet’s resources.

A You Tube video illustrates how difficult it is for an individual to change cognitive processes, in this case something as simple as riding a bike. In the experiment, the man built a bicycle backwards. This bike was built so that turning the handlebars to the right caused the bike to go left and vice versa. It seems easy, especially since many of us have been riding bikes since we were kids. However, this man could not ride the specially modified bike. His brain was programmed into riding bikes a certain way over many years of experience, and now it is impossible for him to just switch. After practicing every day for 8 months, he is finally able to master the new bike. This shows that we are capable of learning new skills; we may just have to unlearn the previous skills first, and that is a difficult process.

Video from SmarterEveryDay

Looking at how this plays out in society, we can see similar ways that people get stuck in their routines. For example, grocery stores have been the go to place for food for more than 30 years. People brought up with this fact have a lot harder time imagining just growing their own food, even though it may be cheaper, healthier and less polluting to do so. Growing and preparing your own food would probably make sense for a lot of families, but the thought does not even occur to them due to so many years of ingrained assumptions.

Returning to the You Tube experiment, we can find some hope for society’s ability to become more sustainably oriented. One significant element of the backwards bike experiment was that the experimenter taught his son how to ride a backwards bike also. His son was six years old at the time and he had been riding a normal bike for three years already. However, his son learned how to ride a backwards bike in two weeks. That shows how children’s brains are extremely elastic and can overcome the negative cycle of being stuck in routines very easily. If we can teach children to adopt sustainability from an early age, then they and future generations will avoid making the same mistakes we’ve made simply because of our societal “habit.”

This is key to sustainability because often as kids we see certain things such as huge power plants, or even malls and assume that those are the standard. But we can and should change that. Why do we need to buy vegetables when we are capable of growing them ourselves? These are the types of questions that need to be asked in order to increase the sustainability of our planet and environment.

We need to be aware that our brains get stuck in routines and maybe it is time to break up our old routines. Let’s start riding bikes backwards or growing our own carrots instead of buying some! A focus on how we can help be more sustainable will both benefit the environment, the ecosystem, and ourselves. Sometimes looking at something from a new angle is all we really need to come up with great ideas. So, with this article in mind go forth, be unique, and switch your routines so you are not stuck in an old way of thinking.

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