The term default is used in behavioural science to mean pre-set courses of action or behaviour that we follow almost instinctively. It is estimated that over 40% of our daily actions are managed by such default behaviour, which we call habits, routines and rituals. These are basically the ways we tie up our time and energy without giving it a second thought.

In many instances, this can be really helpful because it saves precious conscious mental energy. Our unconscious brain is simply trying to reduce the burden on our conscious mind. The challenge is that we can stop reflecting on the broader cost and benefits of any particular behaviour.

When I was young, one such default behaviour was turning on the 6 O’clock news. It was part of the day, but it meant that it distracted from homework, reading or indeed anything else that might be going on. We didn’t really question it – everyone else did the same. It also cultivated a habit of checking the news – of being up to date with current affairs – so on-the-hour-news followed along with buying the newspaper.

This became so engrained as an adult that I would check the news early in the morning and at various times throughout the day. I was vaguely aware that this was a distraction – that it was really adding very little to my day and was ultimately clogging up my mind. And yet, it took until my fifth decade to break the behaviour and simply go cold turkey.

It has now been two months since I’ve read a news article, and I am slowly sensing the amazing benefits. I have much more mental energy. I have space to take up other activities like reading and sharing more with others.

This was just one set of behaviours that was eating up a significant amount of my energy. Others like TV had thankfully been exiled years ago but there are always more.

What about you?

Ask yourself:
What am I doing on autopilot?
How might it be conditioning my days?

Questions in the Image:

  • What are my time defaults?
  • What underlying purpose does each one serve?
  • What time default might be more beneficial?

Want to Further Explore This Topic?

Episode 19 of the Time Academy Podcast: Time Defaults explores these questions in more depth.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. Today is my day to go surfing with my son. Always exciting. I wonder: How might I add more such moments of excitement throughout my days? What am I doing that doesn’t excite me?

About Tom O’Leary

My mission is to help others think differently – meaning more broadly and deeply – and thereby make better decisions. The key to thinking differently lies in our curiosity.

The more we question, the more possible answers we uncover, and the more we expand what we thought possible. Life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential.

And yet, in a culture obsessed with efficiency and productivity, the paradox is that much energy and resources are wasted by a bias towards action over contemplation. If you are answering the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ you work, you are still answering the wrong question.

That is why I am a big advocate of nurturing curiosity and innovative thinking at all ages, particularly amongst leaders because of the impact they have on us all. In my vision, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are curious, open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning.

What Thoughts Would You Like to Share?

I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.