I’ve made a little breakthrough in safety-oriented thinking.

The key? Leaving one’s brain on.

Use that little imperative as a warning, your own internal peril-sensitive sunglasses. When you feel your mind not actively challenged, watch out. Sound an alarm during any activity performed in a risky environment, if ever it turns routine, easy, if you can “go on auto-pilot”, if you can let your attention wander.

This happens countless times. Cutting vegetables. Driving in nasty traffic. Landing an airplane (ok, that usually happens to us lucky few licensed pilots). Writing email at work. Garden work. Just walking around the house!

When I feel my mind become comfortable with the situation, I start making mistakes. Often just little ones (barely noticing some road hazard, screwing up grammar, miscalculating movements, knocking into things, misspeaking, cutting myself); sometimes more serious ones. When I put my consciousness to rest, I relinquish full responsibility for my actions and pass it to the lizard brain. And he, frankly, is just not as good as I am — even if he doesn’t get us into trouble most of the time.

Sure, it’s tiring to try to stay conscious of every little thing one does. But, like exercise, it should get easier over time. Maybe this simple analysis can be reformulated for consumption by youngsters, and help motivate the concept of paying attention. Let them contemplate the immediate antecedent of an error, see whether they felt excessively relaxed. Let them try to detect those moments when their attention diverts. Let them imagine what might happen after that moment. Maybe they’ll turn into an overly self-conscious little monster like I have been.