How Your Brain Tricks You into Blowing Routines

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Routines might be keeping your sanity intact as the coronavirus pandemic keeps us from normal living these days. If you can't depend on anything else, you can certainly rely on your alarm, your daily walk, or your consistent bedtime. Going on autopilot can trip us up, of course — but we do have ways to get back on track.


Psychologists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have just released a study about intentions, behaviors, and the thrilleresque concept of false memories. If you can't remember whether you've taken a pill or replied to an email already, it's likely that your brain is tricking you. When you intend to do a mundane, daily task, the brain can "misremember" either another time you've completed the task or simply make up a memory whole cloth.

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This may sound intuitive, but the UIUC study represents the first time researchers have demonstrated this process under controlled conditions. If false memories really can let us think we haven't skipped a vital step, especially in fields like health or finances, it's all the more important to keep ourselves accountable. Luckily, that's where checklists can really save our skins.


By offloading the process of completing a task to a tangible list, we can give our brains a break and preserve evidence of our process. Even tracking the excuses we make to avoid a task can give us ways to work around what's blocking us. All kinds of high-performing professionals, from pilots to surgeons, rely on checklists to get through their work. If you're not certain your brain is playing on your team, it might be time to give daily lists a try.