When I got on the 86th street bus last night, my spider senses were instantly alarmed: someone or something, somewhere, smelled like cat liter. Dirty, pissed filled, cat liter. On a New York City bus. My nostrils and my gag reflex were pissed. My brain went on the hunt — was it the old dude I was sitting next to? What is in that bag he’s holding — it looks like it wants to hold nineteen-pounds of pissy kitty litter for some unknown, bizzaro, only-in-NYC reason.
I happened to also be on the phone when I got onto the bus. And as my friend talked about his day, I simultaneously texted him what I walked into. “Check your phone,” I said, trying to be incognito about the non-incognito phenomena that was happening. “Eewwwww! Nooo,” he shouted into the phone, while gagging simultaneously. “My grandmother had cats. No. That is the worst smell ever and I hate it!”
Funny thing is, while walking off the bus ten blocks later, I barely smelled the liter box at all. I was already checking email and deciding what to pick up at the grocery store for dinner.
It’s incredible how highly adaptive our bodies are. “The evolution of the brain is the most obvious example of how we evolve to adapt,” explained Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History to the Scientific American.
“Our brains are essentially social brains,” he says. “We share information, we create and pass on knowledge. That’s the means by which humans are able to adjust to new situations.”
In the wake of this past presidential election, many are plugging into ways to change and improve the communities they care about. We’ve seen civic-minded content shared all across our social media platforms and even discussed them in our text messages and conversations. It’s an incredible and encouraging moment in time to watch so many people ask themselves questions like, what can I do and where can I help?
But equally important to ask is what happens ten weeks from now? How does the brain make sure it doesn’t adapt to the smell of the dirty election liter box? How do you make sure the inspiration you feel now doesn’t amount to the same inspiration you felt when you had that funny idea to sell popsicles at concerts? Or learn French? Start a paper company or backpack Montana? And just never pulled the big idea off?
Here’s a start: try committing to something small first. Just a tiny action, a few times a week that helps your brain do something else it’s really great at: adapting to building a new habit. If you can commit to your new project just 30 minutes a day, three times a week, by the end of the month you will have put in six, highly passionate planning hours into your concept. The following month, kick it up to an hour and now you have eighteen-hours on the books.
It won’t feel like a lot of work on paper. But what you want to make sure you focus on, especially in the beginning of a project, is not to burn out on the brainstorm phase. By taking it slow and steady at first, you build the muscle to commit to doing the hard work later on. You make the habit of sitting down, every week to bring your big idea into completion.
Because let’s face it: having an idea is a great feeling, in the moment. But accomplishing your idea… that overwhelming sense of pride and happiness can really last a lifetime. Much longer than the funk of a liter box for sure. So do the work — you’re body will adapt to your dreams.