Groove Is In The Mind (And Behavior)

(Approximately a 4 min read.)

You wear grooves in your mind. In your behaviors.

You know this is true. After you’ve moved something in your place, and keep reaching for it in the wrong spot. Or you change jobs, schools, lovers, and find yourself driving to the wrong location. When our body wakes you up early on your day off, whether you like it or not.

Those grooves can be beneficial. Good habits are just a positive version of this idea.

But those grooves are not always so harmless, and sometimes they can get worn really, really deep.

Those grooves are worn into our behaviors, into our minds, through repetition or through how powerful the events involved were…or both. Like stone stairs that a thousand thousand feet have walked on, the repeated small reptitions wear a groove. Or, if you shoved a bunch of C4 in there just once… well, that’d be a heck of a groove, too.

To put this in terms of life events, if you spent your whole childhood being subtly neglected, that’s the feet on the stone stairs. Banner year in the Bender household? That’s a sledgehammer. Bruce Wayne seeing his parents get shot in front of him? Yeah, that’s the explosives. You get the idea.

Thing about grooves – stuff tends to roll down into them. The bigger they are, the steeper they are, the easier it is for things – or people – to slide back into them.

This holds with even small grooves. If there’s a groove in a footpath, our footsteps tend to move toward that groove. If the road’s tilted to the side, our cars tend to drift in that direction.

So when you notice grooves you don’t want in your behavior, you try to fill them in. Make everything level again, and you’re done.

No such luck.

Repairing our mental grooves is like trying to fix cracks in the sidewalk by spreading spackle with a spork, and no ruler or level in sight.

It is absolutely worth the effort. The repairs – as well as your awareness of the groove – will help you be a more intentional person. Filling in those unwanted, harmful grooves will make it less likely that you find yourself in the same position you have so many times before and keep finding yourself in (no matter what that position may be).

But there will always be the remains of the groove. Maybe you’ve just started the repairs, and while you don’t slide quite so far into the groove as you did before, you still slide into it a little bit. Maybe there’s just a few irregularities around the groove, small ones you barely notice, like the seam between two parts of a linoleum floor, until your foot catches that seam just wrong, and you fall flat on your face.

Those times are frustrating. Infuriating. Painful. Humiliating. Those kinds of experiences can fool you into thinking that the groove is still there, as deep as before you started working on it.

And that’s why I like this analogy so much.

Because it’s one thing to say “recovery is not a straight line.” It makes sense, it’s an okay analogy.

But when I look at the windowsill I had to repair with nothing but wood putty and a plastic table knife, I can see the irregularities. It is a hell of a lot better than it was before I did that slapdash repair job on it. It’s definitely functional again, in a way that it wasn’t before.

But it’s a little harder to close the window now. I have to jiggle it just so, because of the way my repairs aren’t quite flush with the windowsill.

And then I remember: I can keep working on filling in that groove. I can sand it down, and finish it. Maybe I’ll need to learn a new skill or two. Go outside my comfort zone a bit. Even get help from someone else so that I can do it properly.

And I can absolutely do the same with the patterns and grooves in my mind.

Featured Photo by Joshua Olsen on Unsplash

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