Why did I come in here...


I’m sure you, like me, have moments where you walk from one room to another with a specific intention (e.g. fill your coffee cup or grab your checkbook) and then suddenly, when you arrive in the next room you have no idea why you’re there! Scientists call this the “doorway effect” and are finding more and more evidence that moving through a doorway actually causes our brains to let go of some memories, tasks, goals, intentions, and even successes, that were created in the previous room. They are finding it is also true with virtual doorways such as computer screens, and metaphorical doorways such as moving to a new level in life or work. Part of the reason for the forgetfulness is that when you pass through a doorway, your context literally changes. And the context in which you created the intention, goal, and memory, or experienced the success, is now behind you.

I see evidence of this “doorway effect” in our relationship to our growth and transformation. A few days ago I was talking to one of my daughters who said, “I don’t know how we will ever own a bigger home so we can have more children”.

When I reminded her that a little less than 3 years ago she and her new husband were wondering how they would ever move out of their tiny apartment and start a family, she said, “Oh, I forgot about that”.  Since then they have purchased a lovely condo and their son is almost 7 months old. Once they passed through the doorway of parenthood and homeownership, they essentially forgot how far they had come and what they had achieved because their attention, in this new room of their life, is on the next goal.

As I establish myself in my new geography, I’ve had a few moments when all I’ve accomplished in life and work seems like a distant memory. At times the experiences of my former life seem incredibly far away even though it has only been a few weeks - the doorway effect.

In my attempt to hold onto what was of value to me in the “room” I just exited, I started a list of things to do, or recreate, here in the Sacramento area – sign up for yoga, find a ranch and discover new nature spots. I then realized as I read about the doorway effect that as incredibly valuable to me as those activities were, they were from the other room. The room of my life I have just exited.

A few years ago when I was going through another transition - buying a home and starting my business, Dr. Mary Kay Stenger said to me, “As doors close and you let go of things that no longer serve you, don’t rush to fill in with new things. Wait and see what appears in your life. Feel connections with your heart not your brain. And choose those things that support, nurture and fulfill who you truly are and what you were meant to do.

doorway effect May Kay Stnger In the 2011 study that revealed the doorway effect, researchers concluded that our brains perceived doorways and thresholds, real and metaphorical, as a cutoff point. The memories and experience that we carry across literally get shaken clean, like an Etch-a-Sketch, and a new canvas appears to create memories, tasks, intentions and goals based on the new context and fresh landscape on this side of the doorway.

I’ve decided to give myself a break. To allow what is to appear on this new canvas to show up. Maybe it will be yoga and a ranch and nature. Maybe it will be some entirely new and unexpectedly fulfilling wonders.

Instead of creating “to do’s”, I remind myself of the strategies, tools and strengths that helped me find myself, build my business, create a home and find joy and abundance – positive risk taking, following my heart, trusting inspired action, connecting with like-minded others and taking time for quiet. I will lean on those tools as my Etch-a-Sketch once again settles to a blank canvas for this 5th or 6th major transition in my life. I can’t wait to see what appears in this new room.

Where in your life are you moving through a doorway from one room to the next? Where is the Etch-a-Sketch in your brain ready for a good shaking and a new canvas? How can you leave some space empty so new opportunities or wonders can drop in?

I’d love to hear from you!