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So often, though, just a smidge to one side of automatic is something so much better. A better choice, a better perspective, a better experience — a better way.

Now, it often happens that we don’t get to that better way until we’ve been suffering quietly with the less-than-fabulous way for quite some time. Perhaps we don’t realize what the old way is costing us, or we just don’t have the time and energy to explore our options. Perhaps we are afraid of change, or skeptical about the unknown, or concerned about what people will think.

And then, something shifts for us.

We have a flash of insight. We feel enough pain that we get motivated to try something different. Or we are presented with an alternative that looks appealing enough that we are finally willing to beat a new path down the road less traveled.

This happens to me all the time. And it never ceases to amaze me, once I’ve lit on one of these better-way solutions, that I wasn’t doing it this way all along. As we said back in high school: Duh!

Just a few months ago, a reader sent in a great idea for our “Works for Me” department. She described how she got up every morning, lit incense and candles, started coffee brewing, then did a little yoga and set her daily intentions while her coffee perked. Hmm, I thought: Yoga, incense, candles and intentions — that sounds like a better way to start my day than checking email and unloading the dishwasher. So I tried it, and it was.

Before I got comfortable being an avowed picky eater (more on that in my letter from January/February 2006), I’d just do my best to eat around whatever happened to be on a given restaurant’s menu. Then one day, a gluten-intolerant friend of mine asked to have her pasta dish served over an assortment of sautéed vegetables. I thought: “Hey, neat. I’m gonna try that!” And I did, and it was great.

Same thing with driving a hybrid car. The idea never really occurred to me until I started seeing hybrids on the road, and then I rode in a friend’s Prius, and, well — I liked it. It wasn’t some giant deal to make the switch. It just made sense to me, so the next time I was in the market for a car, I looked into hybrid options.

This happens to us collectively, too. When such “better way” moments occur on a mass level, they tend to emerge a little more gradually, but the net effect can be enormously powerful — what we’ve come to think of as a “tipping point.”

We’re nearing such a point, I think, with our thinking on both healthcare and the environment. In both cases, the pain has gotten bad enough (and the projected outlooks of the current systems bleak enough) that we’ve begun stepping out in search of better ways. And as we’ve stepped forward, bridges to better alternatives — bridges that seemed nonexistent or invisible before — seem to be forming under our feet.

We’re realizing it’s really not so terribly hard to take better care of ourselves and our planet. In fact, the better way is often much easier and more appealing than we ever imagined, particularly when compared to the costs of continuing on the way we’ve been going.

In this issue, we’ve offered up some better-way options for seeing and doing all sorts of things — from cooking, shopping, eating and exercising, to dealing with some of our larger, collective health-and-wellness challenges (see “The New View of Health”). In our May “Clean Up Your Act” issue, we’ll be offering more ideas and insights in a similar vein.

Our objective here is not to convince you that everything in your life needs fixing, or to offer up all the answers, but rather to invite you to notice where good things are gathering steam, and where even better ways might be knocking and asking for your attention. Because while running on automatic may be convenient, it’s rarely as useful as asking thoughtful questions and making conscious choices. And that’s precisely the way most better ways get their start.

Thoughts to share?

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