Imagine drinking a lovely mug of coffee in your favourite armchair.
Now, if after your last delicious slurp, you stand up, walk into your kitchen, and are greeted by a single dirty plate in the sink, then I have some sad news for you. The chances of you washing up your innocent little coffee mug – your intention as you entered the kitchen – have just plummeted dramatically.
But there’s more. If you do leave your mug in the sink, then by the end of the day, the collection will in all likelihood have grown – a veritable menagerie of dirty plates, spoons, glasses – maybe even a pan or two – will now be inhabiting your sink.
And there’s even more – with each subsequent item that gets added to the sink, the chances of you washing up any of them continue to plummet.
That is the gravitational pull of the status quo, starkly illustrated. And it all started with one decision – not washing up the first plate. But how can something so seemingly minute and immaterial – the washing up of a single plate – have such a disproportionate effect?
It’s our good old friend human nature at work again. You see, one of our strongest tendencies – and there’s a reason I used the word “gravitational” in the title – is to maintain the status quo, even if we don’t like the status quo.
As silly as it sounds, once there was a single unwashed item in the sink, the status quo was a dirty sink – washing anything up would have violated the status quo. So you left the mug, and you let everything after that continue to pile up. But had there been nothing in the sink, then cleanliness would been the status quo – not washing up the mug would have been violating the status quo.
Status quos attract us like gravity, and what’s more, they are incredibly self-reinforcing – a good status quo will tend to get even better, whilst a bad one will tend to get even worse.
It pays to develop a keen understanding of the various status quos in your life, because they are affecting your moment-to-moment more than you could ever know. Your human nature is to protect them – whatever they are, whether you like them or not. You almost always do this without any conscious awareness. Make them conscious, and you give yourself a little bit of leverage over them – you give yourself the chance to sack off the negative ones, and double down on the positive ones.