Socks are not a major part of my life. They’re a necessity. I think of them less than almost any item of clothing. That is until I find myself bereft of a good pair. When I open my draw to find that all I have left are the ones with the knackered elastic and with that bit at the heel that’s just on the edge of becoming a hole.
In moments like these I usually just suck it up, choose the least worn out pair I can see, and make a mental note to do the laundry and possibly buy some new socks. But last week something magical happened.
I should make it clear that I don’t buy socks often. I grudgingly spend some money on a new pack every six months or so and chuck them in amongst the rest. I’m overdue a refresh at the moment. So the last thing I was expecting when I rummaged inside my sock draw was to find a fresh, untouched, virgin pair of socks hiding away at the back.
I knew they were virgin socks because not only did they have that unmistakable new cotton feel but they still had the plastic tag through the heel where they had previously been attached to two other identical pairs. It was like a gift from heaven. I had been saved from the old, worn out socks by a deus ex sykchos.
Since then it has been bouncing around in my head that this pair of virgin socks must have been there for more than half a year. They had travelled with me from my old house and still managed somehow to avoid being worn. Every day, when I chose a pair of socks at random, this one pair remained hidden away. It’s not exactly winning the lottery level odds but it’s impressive.
But lest you begin to imagine that my life is so empty that I have nothing better to do than ponder sock draw happenstance I hasten to say that this thought was nagging at me not for its own sake alone but because there is, in this story, a message for anyone facing a difficult task or stubborn problem, one of those “I’ve tried everything” problems.
My sock draw is a small box filled with no more than a couple of dozen pairs of socks and if a virgin pair of socks can hide away in there despite daily pawing by yours truly what exactly are the chances that within that massive brain of yours there are no metaphorical virgin socks waiting to be broken in?
I find that most people massively underestimate their capacity for novelty. When we generate ideas most stop after ten minutes or so. When I challenge teams to come up with fifty answers to a given question they look at me like I’m crazy. But I know it’s possible. When working in the flow of the everyday there’s a similar phenomenon. We don’t look too deeply at problems, nor do we search too far afield for solutions. We stay within the safe zone. The front of the sock draw that contains our most frequently worn socks, if you’d indulge the extended metaphor.
There’s a bunch of ways that you can overcome this tendency to move on too soon. For a start I always encourage meditation practice as a way to begin to become aware of the tendency to glance lightly and get lost following mindless mental talk. And, of course, building a habit that defies the question-panic-answer loop replacing it instead with a question-ponder-discuss loop instead. At the core of all of this, however, is the truth that you have to let go of the self limiting belief that keeps your sock draw unexplored.
So next time you’re facing a tricky problem, remember my virgin socks and ask yourself if you’ve really looked deeply enough inside your own mental sock draw.