Thursday, July 2, 2015


What do you need to unlearn?
There are lots of resources out there to learn new skills, but have you ever thought about what you may need to unlearn? The accumulation of habits and “standard” ways of doing things comes with age; the older you get, the more likely you are to get stuck in a rut because you have had more chances to do the same thing repeatedly. I don't mean Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder; that's a serious mental condition that requires more help than I am able to offer. I'm talking about the little things that we all do without thinking, every day.

When TSHTF, the old ways of doing things may not work as well as before or at all. A simple example is brushing your teeth. Most people will:
  1. Go into the bathroom, 
  2. Turn on the light(s), 
  3. Get out their brush and toothpaste, 
  4. Turn on the water in the sink 
  5. While the water is running, wet the toothbrush 
  6. Leaving the water running, put toothpaste on the brush the length of the bristles 
  7. Brush their teeth, spitting into the sink as needed, with their mouth open 
  8. Rinse the brush under the running water 
  9. Rinse their teeth from a glass of water (or cupped hands) 
  10. Turn off the water 
  11. Turn off the light(s) 
  12. Leave the bathroom
    Now imagine that a flood, hurricane, or earthquake has disrupted the utilities:
    1. You walk into the bathroom and flip the light switch - nothing happens. 
    2. You turn on the water and nothing comes out of the tap. 
    Your day has just started and one of your minor rituals has been disrupted. For some of us this can be a major disruption; for others it's just a minor set-back. Either way, you'll have to unlearn a habit and learn a new way to brush your teeth.

    This actually happened to me about 20 years ago. 
    I was working for a company doing flood damage repair and we were following the receding flood waters, replacing water-logged back-up batteries and chargers on communications gear. We checked into a motel that had reopened its second floor rooms (the first floor was being gutted and rebuilt after being under water for two weeks), and we were handed a gallon jug of drinking water along with our room keys. The municipal water plant was back up and running, but their water had not been certified as safe to drink yet. The gallon jug of water was for washing our hands and faces as well as brushing our teeth. I had to teach my partner how the Army taught me to brush my teeth in the field, using next to no water. He had to unlearn something he'd been doing for over 30 years, and it only took him two days.

    Here's the Army method (uses about 4 ounces of water):
    1. Place a very small bead of toothpaste, about the size of a pea, on your dry toothbrush.
    2. Take a half-mouthful of water from your canteen and hold it in your mouth.
    3. Slip the dry toothbrush into your mouth without spilling any water.
    4. Scrub your teeth with your lips together.
    5. Spit out the toothpaste when done.
    6. Rinse your mouth with another half-mouthful of water and spit it out. 
    7. Rinse your toothbrush with a few dribbles of water.

    Now think about all of the things you take for granted. 
    • How much of your life comes out of a wall outlet? If the power goes out, a great majority of the things in your house will become giant paperweights. Flipping light switches as you enter a dark room takes time to unlearn.
    • Have you thought about how to get around if the gas stations aren't pumping gas? Distances that are trivial in a car can take hours on foot. Do you know alternate routes in case your normal paths are damaged or disrupted?
    • Most of us know that food doesn't magically appear in the grocery stores. Have you figured out how to get by without fully-stocked shelves just down the street? Besides the problems with resupplying, not having the ability to pop into the store for that one thing you forgot may mean you'll have to modify recipes or at least eat things that taste different than you're used to.
    • Are there people that you depend on (spouse, parent, etc.) for everyday chores? What are you going to do if they're not able to get to you? Think about alternate ways of getting important things done and be prepared to ignore the unimportant things.
    • Are there people who depend on you for everyday chores? Have you discussed the possibility that you may not be able to take care of all of their needs, or at least considered how to accept that you aren't going to be there for everything?
    • What are you going to do to entertain little ones if the TV and internet are offline? The great one-eyed babysitter (TV) may need to be replaced with a radio, some books, or a pad of paper and some crayons. This can also apply to elders under your care, as they're likely to be more cranky than children and less easily mollified. 

    This list could go on for pages, but I think you get the idea. Just like your supplies, you should do an inventory of your habits and have a way to replace them.

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