From the time you rise in the morning until you close your eyes at night, your day is filled with thousands of small decisions, many that you don’t even think about. For each decision that you make, there is a probably a good choice and a poor choice available. Most of the time, the good choice, or doing the right thing, is more difficult than doing the wrong thing. Should you drop those dirty socks on the floor or make the effort to transfer them to the proper receptacle? Should you come to a complete stop at the stop sign or just roll through since no one else is in the intersection? Do you head to the gym after work or binge-watch that new Netflix series?
I realized that doing the right thing is not as easy as doing the wrong thing recently when walking at a university campus. There were several concrete walkways from the parking lot to the buildings and between buildings. But there were also a number of paths worn in the lawns, shortcuts, that people walking at the campus had created. The right thing to do was to stay on the walkways, but it was easier – and more convenient – to take the unofficial paths. I had hoped that, during some future project to update the grounds, that the engineers will take note of how people actually walk through the campus and adjust the routes.
Choosing to do the right thing can be even harder in some circumstances, such as taking responsibility for making a mistake. It’s easier to blame someone or something else or just pretend you are not responsible. Of course, at a company, the culture and how mistakes are handled affect this. If mistakes are viewed as ways to learn and improve, people are more likely to step up than if people are verbally attacked when things go wrong.
It’s also easy to follow along with the crowd. I’ve noticed on the airport parking shuttle, that when I pull out money to tip the driver, other passengers notice and do the same thing. Also, at a stop light in the US, I might pull forward so I can see if it’s safe to make a right turn. More than half the time, the car to my left will also move forward blocking my view. There is no advantage for the driver, they just pull forward because I do it!
You may be wondering why it’s hard to do the right thing. My theory is that human nature programs us to do what is easier to help us survive. By being a bit lazy, we conserve precious energy. Deflecting blame lets us avoid danger. Greed encourages us to store up resources for our survival. Following the crowd might make us feel like we belong to the tribe or village. Instead of automatically doing the easy thing, start paying attention to your behaviours and your motivations. Start doing the right things instead.