I heard a story on a podcast a while back and recently took the time to look up and dig into the details of it. It was a story about Pine Processionary Caterpillars and an experiment that a botanist did with them. Pine Processionary Caterpillars walk in straight lines; they follow head to tail after one another using a scent trail to direct them that is started by the line leader and supplemented by each caterpillar as he follows the trail.
Normally, this results in large groupings of the caterpillars sticking together as they leave the comfort of their huddle each morning in search for food. A botanist named Jean-Henri Fabre noticed them walking up the side of a potted plant one day and decided to see if they really just blindly follow the trail laid down so he directed the leader around the edge of planter. The entire group followed the leader around the circle over and over for eight days. Yes, you read that right – eight days.
At night, they would huddle up in smaller groupings for warmth. The next morning, the first caterpillar to start moving was the new leader and laid down the scent trail for the rest of the team to follow him around the circle. For eight days.
When one got tired and collapsed from walking, a new leader took his place and continued around the circle. If Fabre broke the trail and wiped away the scent, they would get disoriented until a new leader would emerge and lay down the trail. The same circle. For Eight Days.
Occasionally, a new leader would diverge from the circle trail down the rim into the dirt but each one went right back up to the rim of the planter to walk around in a circle. FOR EIGHT DAYS.
One morning, the new leader started walking down the side of the pot to the ground, but turned around half-way down and went back up to the rim. Other new leaders started following this side trail and would go a little bit further each time until they finally ended up back on the ground where they could rest and eat.
Eight days to a human is nothing – one week. Not enough time to form a new habit or break an old one. Not enough time to process whether a change is going to be effective or not. Barely enough time to realize a change has been made if we weren’t the initiator. But how often do we continue walking around in the same circle in our life? Whether it’s fear of the unknown or just the routine we’ve established for ourselves, we repeat our days. Over and over and over.
We might take little side trips by setting resolutions or new goals that we get started on, but the majority of the time our trail in life brings us right back to the same ol’ circle we’ve been walking around.
We see those around us stop in exhaustion and instead of evaluating why they might be so tired we jump in and take over and continue leading the team around the circle.
We break into small huddles every now and then for a vacation or just a day off, but as soon as we get back to “real life” we go right back to the same circle.
Here’s my challenge to you: BREAK THE CIRCLE. Don’t keep following the same routine, the same pattern. Do one thing differently today. Stick with it for one week and then add in a second change.
If you need help finding new things, check out “52 Small Changes – One Year to a Happier, Healthier You” by Brett Blumental. In the book, he lays out one change each week to incorporate into your routine so that by the end of the year you’ve changed the way you look at your life in four areas: Diet and Nutrition; Fitness and Prevention; Mental Well-Being and Green Living.
Maybe you don’t want to tackle a weekly change and need to pick one thing each month to really focus in on. Do it! Break the circle and make the change last.