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Declare 'Opposite Day' to Supercharge New Thinking

Image via Todd Klassy/

Everyday you wake up and go about your day with little effort or thought. Brushing your teeth with your right hand, putting your keys in your right pocket or wearing your watch on your left wrist. These actions come just as naturally as breathing in and out. They’re unconscious, habitual responses. But what if, for one week, you did just the opposite? What if you chose to act differently—to reassert some control over the minutiae? What other things might you realize are on autopilot?

Here’s a technique to try with your staff to increase self-awareness, promote innovation and, perhaps most powerfully, choice. In essence, you declare "opposite day."

Ask everyone to consider something they do every day—what wrist they wear their watch on, what shoulder they put their bag over or which pocket they place their phone in—and instruct them to do the opposite. Silly? Maybe. The effect? Profound. This is an example of what’s called a “wedge of consciousness.” Every time you remember something is out of place, you’ll notice a slight discomfort. That discomfort serves as a mental reminder, a little self-aware break in time where you become more aware of your actions.

According to self-awareness trainer Milton Dawes:

"Every now and again, you will see these objects or feel the discomfort of having them in not usual places. This will give you the opportunity to ask yourself questions like the following: 'Where am I at this moment.? What am I doing? What am I supposed to be doing? How am I doing what I am doing?'"

Ask your team to give it a try during the week in between staff meetings. At the end of that week, ask everyone to share their experience. What did they notice about themselves? What other automatic behaviors did they identify? What did choosing to act differently make possible? How did this “wedge” affect their performance?

Report back on what you learn. What other innovative exercises have you tried?

Originally published on Excellence in Government Aug. 31, 2012.

Image via Todd Klassy/

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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