Creatures of habit

gorillaOur lives tend to be ruled by habits. I’m not just talking about a fondness for junk-food, booze, or cigarettes et al, I mean the tendency to repeat any rewarding (or at least not-too-painful) behaviours, over and over again, ad nauseum.

It often seems to be our lot to follow the path most travelled and to boldly go where we have been many times before.

Of course one can try consciously to break free from the habit of being habitual, perhaps by cultivating the more impulsive and adventurous aspects of one’s nature. Although this in itself could become a habit.. You just cannot win.

Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”

Mark Twain

I heard about this guy called Gary, who grew bored with the same old routine every day. So he started trying to shake things up by breaking old habits and diligently trying new approaches. Two months in and he was spotted leaving his office job in the city by abseiling down the outside of the building, dressed in a gorilla costume (no mean feat when you work on the twenty-third floor).

He also tried travelling home via a different mode of transport each day (which included a penny-farthing bicycle, a pogo stick and a hang-glider), and eating an evening meal chosen at random from the cookbook 1001 Welsh-kosher macrobiotic dinners for the curious gourmet.

For entertainment he’d then watch a TV channel chosen by his cat pawing at the remote, which he’d sprayed with katnip to facilitate greater enthusiasm. Sometimes it paid off, but there were also many painful evenings of plodding 70s German crime dramas, incomprehensible kids’ cartoons and worst of all, Top Gear reruns.

He kept the gorilla costume, but soon became disenchanted with his groundbreaking new lifestyle and instead tried basing his life choices on random throws of dice and numbered, pre-written options, à la The Diceman.

It didn’t end well. One warm Summer’s evening he threw a Four and a two: this led to the fateful instruction: ‘While still in costume, eat three bananas and dance to The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. All was well until he stepped on a banana skin and fell three floors out of his open lounge window, landing in front of a passing hearse. It was certainly an unusual way to go, although amazingly he was not the first family member to be killed by a funeral vehicle, as one newspaper headline reflected:

Gorilla Gary in hearse-curse horror!”

Hopefully he would have seen the funny side of it.

In the great struggle to avoid all that is routine, we may lose our minds, or even our lives. Or we might simply come to accept that some habits have their place, and a life pursuing endless new experiences for the sake of it quickly palls.

Of course certain habits are very useful, like breathing for example. And going without one at a convent is a definite no-no (Sorry, it had to be done..).

Developing some positive habits can be life changing: a brisk daily walk for just thirty minutes can make a major difference to your health, although if you end the walk at a pub or a pie shop the benefits may be somewhat diluted.

The only proper way to eliminate bad habits is to replace them with good ones.”

Jerome Hines

I personally try to include a regular walk into my daily routine, although sometimes I may adopt a slightly silly walk, especially if it’s on the way home from a bar.

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg examines the mechanics of habits and how we might harness this knowledge to improve our lives. It seems researchers identified three key components of a habit: a cue, a routine and a reward. Understanding what’s going on when you find yourself heading to the cafeteria for a cookie or a chocolate bar that you don’t really need, might help you make better choices in the future. Watch his short video How to break habits, it might change your life. Although all the mentions and images of cookies just made me hungry.

What are your worst habits? Have you managed to nurture any positive ones? Do share.


© Copyright Jason Lennick 2017


6 thoughts on “Creatures of habit

  1. Yes, habits are dreadful. In fact, it’s awful having habits. I find myself constantly changing mine so as to avoid repetition. Trouble is, there are only so many pubs within a given radius of one’s house, so one always tends to end up where one has started. It’s just habitual, I suppose…

    Liked by 1 person

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