Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

May 9, 2009

Habit and Automatization

Like most people, I have a number of habits. Some are good (buckling my seat belt when I get in the car) and some are bad (overeating). Enacting personal change is really a matter of tackling these habits to establish new good ones and get rid of old bad ones. This can be really difficult. Some things seem incredibly resistant to habit-forming (exercise), while other habits are so deeply ingrained that it can seem impossible to combat them. I'm gradually accumulating a list of observations that I hope will help me out. Here's what I have so far:

1. I have NEVER EVER been able to form a habit of doing something that I really don't like to do. Doing it remains a conscious process, consciously assumed no matter how many times I do it. Unfortunately most exercise falls in this category. The sad part is that I enjoy physical activity, but I hate getting exercise just to exercise. Anyway, I digress.

2. I get in the habit of doing things I like to do (eating lunch in a particular place), really, really quickly--so much so that it's hard for me to break out of it if I have to do something unusual, like go to the bank during lunch. I think this is why most smokers have such a hard time quitting. They enjoy their smoke breaks and they feel weird if they don't take them.

3. The more precision a given activity requires, the longer it takes to form a habit and the more quickly I lose the habit when I stop. Getting lunch doesn't require much precision--I just meander in the right direction and things take care of themselves. All the activities involved (walking, driving, eating) are automatized. I can do ALL of them while reading. (Although reading while driving is pretty ill-advised.) Most video games use pretty much the same button combos so I don't usually have any problem learning to play them--even if I haven't played in a while, I can become proficient again in about 15 minutes. I remember when I first learned how to type, though. That's a skill that requires a lot of precision. It took me YEARS to become proficient and I still become awkward at it if I'm confronted with a different keyboard or typing position. Some other skills (swordfighting, for instance) require so much precision--whole body precision, too--that you have to practice pretty much daily to maintain your proficiency. If I take a break from drawing for a while, I have to re-learn it all over again and I'll usually waste a bunch of paper or time producing crap for a while.

4. It's possible to mentally form a "habit" without actually doing whatever-it-is. I picked this idea up from a friend of mine and I use it whenever it's ABSOLUTELY necessary that I remember to do something. I'll picture myself doing it ten or twelve times (and you have to PICTURE yourself doing it, not just say "Remember to take out the trash" a bunch of times). Usually, it works, but I have what seems to be an abnormally good memory so I'm not sure of the precise mechanism at work, here.

That's all I've got for now, I'll continue making observations in the hopes that I'll conquer this habit problem sooner or later.

1 comment:

Web Manager said...

I have to agree about how hard it is to make exercise a habit. I've been exercising pretty regularly going back to 1976, with a few notable breaks when I had infants. And daily -- seriously, daily -- exercise has been part of my life for at least 8 years. But I'd still rather eat a piece of cheesecake than walk 4 miles.

I think one key is finding the reward in the activity. I'm 52 and still have a waistline. I like that -- a LOT. And I'm reminded of it every time I look in a mirror.