When Do You Notice Your Context Changed?

I drive a combination gas/hybrid car. Last year, I bought gas 4 times. Maybe. It might have been 3 times. In general, I don’t drive that much. I’ve worked from home for many years.

This year, since I drive even less, I decide to use up the old gas. I finally needed gas this past week. I asked Mark, “Where’s the cheapest gas these days?”

He started to answer me. Then, both of us laughed—those deep belly laughs—and I said, “It really doesn’t matter, does it?”

My context for buying gas has changed—even more than when I originally got the hybrid car. While I don’t want to waste money, a few cents either way is not going to affect our household budget.

I didn’t notice—until I said those words out loud.

I’ve noticed the big context changes. I haven’t gotten on a plane since February. This is the first year since 1995 that I haven’t traveled at least once a month. That’s a long travel career, and I feel my world getting “smaller” because I’m not out and about.

I’ve noticed many smaller context changes, too. I wear my mask even walking around the neighborhood. We haven’t gone out for dinner. We’ve been careful seeing our (grown) children.

Somehow, I missed the context change about the car and the gas.

I think I missed that context change because I don’t make the “get gas” decision very often. Even when I buy gas, I buy it infrequently.

That means I use old decision-making habits, even though my context changed.

How to Notice When You Context Changes

Sometimes we recognize context changes immediately. Sometimes, we need more time. I’m pretty good at recognizing a context change when:

  • The change is sudden.
  • I encounter this change with high frequency.

I’m not so good with slow or low-frequency changes. I only sort-of realized the context change about gas for my car. That’s because I rarely practice putting gas in my car even when I drive a lot.

Here’s how I’m trying to train myself to recognize context changes:

  • Am I puzzled? Do I wonder “what’s going on?”
  • Am I stuck trying to do the same thing I’ve always done?
  • Do I ever wish things would “go back” to the way they were?

I’m human, so yes, I do all of these things. Each of these questions arises because of the slow or low-frequency of the change.

I write to help me notice. You might choose to journal.

I also ask these questions:

Those questions help me create more possibilities, create interim goals, and decide when to change makes sense.

And, because some of these decisions are infrequent, I might continue to not notice fast enough when my context changes.

That, dear adaptable readers, is the question this week: When do you notice when your context changes?

7 thoughts on “When Do You Notice Your Context Changed?

  1. Jim Grey

    Just a tip you didn’t ask for: gas is fresh from three to six months, after which it starts to break down, which isn’t great for your engine. So if you’re not going to use a full tank in that time, don’t fill it all the way!

  2. Rebecca Wirfs-Brock

    When context change is gradual, or the actions you take (which require awareness of context) are infrequent it is easy to not shift to recognize that new context. Also, it takes a while to get used to any new semi-stable context. I finally find I am getting used to people wearing masks when going to public places. Two months ago, it seemed odd. Now it feels normal. I am also getting used to not traveling, not driving much, spending more time outside, taking breaks from zoom meetings…

    Gary Klein talks about conditions for acquiring expertise, which I think is interesting to think about in times when the context shifts suddenly and often. Expertise requires a relatively stable environment and feedback close enough to our action so that we correlate what we did with what happened. It is impossible to acquire expertise when there is little regularity in our environment…when the context keeps shifting.

    1. Johanna Post author

      Rebecca, thanks for that idea. Here’s the link to Klein’s paper: https://www.fs.usda.gov/rmrs/sites/default/files/Kahneman2009_ConditionsforIntuitiveExpertise_AFailureToDisagree.pdf. (I hope that’s the one you meant.)

      I suspect I hadn’t realized my context continues to shift until you said that in your comment. We had the Big Change when we realized the virus was actively sweeping the world back in March. We continue to have more changes of various sizes. Maybe I’ll write about managing lots of changes and the feelings of loss that arise when we do. (Even if those changes are happy changes.)

  3. karlosmid

    Hi Johanna!

    “That, dear adaptable readers, is the question this week: When do you notice when your context changes?”

    By carefully reading this question, I realized that this is hard question to answer. Much easier question, would be How? When is point in time and we need to have some anchoring time point. So real question would be how long it takes for me to realize that my context changed? My recent life context change was earthquake that we had back in March, at the start of a pandemic. It took me two months to realize that by bedtime routine included moving chairs from tables so I could quickly jump under the table during the night if need.

    Thanks for the question!

    Regards, Karlo.

    1. Johanna Post author

      Karlo, very nice refinement. Yes, the earthquake was a BIG CHANGE. I suspect the various aftershocks are also small-medium-large changes. And, the fact that you adapted by moving chairs away from tables? Smart of you to act. I suspect that you “jumped” from Foreign Element (earthquake) to New Status Quo (move chairs) fast, using Kahnemann’s System 1 thinking. You are now integrating that knowledge and experience into your System 2 thinking. (Thes systems refer to Thinking Fast and Slow.)

      You and Rebecca are helping me think through what might be a longer post about change over change over change… Thanks.

  4. Pingback: Five Blogs – 7 October 2020 – 5blogs

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