Creatures of Habit

You may have guessed from previous postings that I am very much into human behaviour. I read non-fiction to understand who people are, why I am, and how we become. Hence the reason why I read books like “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.

The book preaches the theory of the Habit Loop . The Cue - The Routine - The Reward. The Cue is what triggers our actions. Our actions, when done subconsciously, are what is defined as The Routine, in anticipation of reaping The Reward. 

This loop theory keeps repeating itself throughout the pages, and I’m wondering, “What do I do in my personal life that follows this process?" Brushing My Teeth, of course. I brush and floss my teeth habitually… religiously… so much so that if I skip a session at the basin, I would feel incomplete. This is a positive habit of mine; done at least twice daily, to the cue of getting ready to start my day as well as finishing it… a routine done mechanically, upper teeth first, then lower, and finally topped off with floss-cleaning. I do it because I wish to have a full set of “chiclets” on the day I die.

Of course I have my bad habits: Procrastination! I realize this happens when I anticipate little or zero purpose in what I’m doing… in other words, I value very little in eventual rewards. No cue in life will motivate me to promptly respond. This, of course is a problem for those who lack vision, like yours truly. These negative habits can be changed, however. Well, at least according to Charles Duhigg. But I am not a lab-rat in a maze, that you can easily tease and swap its cheese for a chocolate bar. I am a mere human that requires a swift kick in the butt to get me going. 

I will make myself unpopular and say, that what makes people go to places of worship, religiously (no pun intended), could also be because of habit. Some folks throughout their lifetime would continue to pray regularly, some may drop out because they no longer believe in "the reward", and some may decide to follow the light because of certain "cues" in their lives. 

Amazing findings reported in the book, touch on how some habits are so well embedded in the minds of test subjects, that even after a large degree of brain damage, patients could still unknowingly function and perform complex acts, even though they couldn't recall recent events. This observation reminded me of a highly respected but very senile uncle in my family. He could recall fellow-politicians and colleagues from over a half-century previous in his life, but could not recognize any of his own children. Such is the effects of the basal-ganglia within the brain, as described in the book. 

"The Power of Habit" is not only a study of human behaviour. It depicts historical situations in corporations and societies, explains events that break down its conducts, and chronicles outcomes due to changes of practice. Although not quite the self-help book I expected, author Duhigg provides an interesting narrative on Habit. It will help me identify my bad, analyze the alternative, and nurture the good. 


February 2014

© Prakoso Sastrowardoyo 2012