“Making Habits, Breaking Habits” by Jeremy Dean.
Full disclosure: If you buy the book through the link, it won’t cost you any more, but I’ll get a few pennies. But my main motivation for doing this is to understand the book properly. What follows is my summary of the chapter.
I’m going to try to go faster. I want to get to the practical advice, and I suspect other people do too.
In a novel called “The Dice Man” by George Cockroft, the protagonist, Luke Rinehart, uses a drastic method to escape the rut. He writes down six possibilities, throws the dice, and does whatever. It works because he’s consciously making a list of options and then adding a random element. Of course he didn’t have to put things like “murder” down as one of the options!
So why don’t more of us do it? Well, in the novel, other people are appalled by the random behaviour. We find routines comforting. Flying is less scary the more you do it. Surgery is less tiring the more you do it (which is a very good thing when you arrive in A&E near the end of the shift).
Habits tend to be emotionless. You do have feelings while you, say, brush your teeth, but they’re feeling about whatever you’re thinking about, which is unlikely to be your teeth. We tend not to be proud of our habits, and feel they don’t say much about us and aren’t very important for reaching goals – we feel we aren’t in control and anyway, we hardly notice most of them.
One of the effects of Parkinson’s disease is that patients find it very hard to form new habits and may even forget old ones.
Children tend to be happier in families with regular routines like all eating together, sitting in the same places. It can feel weird to go to a friend’s house, where they do things differently.
Most of us learn young to be polite to strangers, so people are nice back and it’s self-reinforcing. Sadly, some people start out very pessimistic about strangers; they expect rejection, and that makes them behave in ways which makes rejection more likely. A simple habit of not bothering with “Please”, “Thank you” and “Good morning” can all too easily lead to a lonely old age.
Habits are important at work, too. Companies which stagnate tend to bust (not surprising) but companies which innovate too fast also go bust. You need to have most of the workforce to be running on habit most of the time, because habits are efficient.
Much of our eating is habitual. But if you count when to start, when to stop, what to eat, who to eat it with etc. as separate decisions, we make over 200 of them per day, and very few of them are conscious. Food just falls into our mouths by itself. Much of our shopping is similarly automatic – we buy pretty much the same food that we bought last week.
All this repetition is efficient, but it get very boring. So we decide to change, and then we find we’re doing the same old, same old again.
The first step to change is to notice what we’re currently doing. We don’t need to resort to dice to get out of the rut. We can change things around once we know which bits aren’t helping, but it’s best to go slowly.