Habit: What Makes Us Human?

I used to think I wasn’t an addictive personality, and I guess I’m not, in the traditional sense. But I do have habits, strong and persistent ones, that I feel a craving for if left for long. I have thought a lot about this notion of habit. The notion that doing something regularly could be considered bad. Now I know that there are “good” habits, like brushing one’s teeth and expressing gratitude, but I mean the other kind of habit. The habits that you might not tell other people because they would judge you. The kind you find yourself rationalizing to yourself. That kind.

And one rationalization, which is very satisfying, mind you, is that we all have them. In fact, it’s human to have them. I love that. So if you don’t have habits that somehow own you, you aren’t human. And maybe that is more true than it might sound. Think about it.

A habit is likely something driven by the personality – an expression of personality. If I have a habit of drinking coffee each morning, I probably like coffee. I not only like the way it tastes and smells, I probably also like what it means to drink it. I may even drink it with others, or wear a t-shirt that announces how much I like it or drink it or both. I may own several coffee makers, become a barista, have a particular brand of coffee that is “mine.” All of this may sound harmless enough, and it is on most scales. But it is insidious.

This little, innocent habit has now become a stake in the ground of my life, a stake that defines me, maps me out, and starts to act as a filter in my world: there are those (like me) who drink coffee and there are those who don’t (ee-gads! the enemy!). This is most certainly the terrain of the personality.

And somehow these personality habits, these ruts in the landscape of life, are comforting. Creatures of habit, we are. Which is pretty much saying, my habits are like a warm blanket on a cool night. But what about that blanket on a hot night? Don’t we want the freedom to throw it off? When our habits no longer serve us, no longer are a source of comfort and relief, we want to be able to stop. And yet, isn’t that the whole niggling thing about habit? It grows stronger each time, like smoking or overeating or biting one’s nails, and insidiously becomes something we do without thinking. And stopping is exactly what is necessary to turn a behavior that has become a habit back into a behavior again. Sheesh.

And all this concentrating on the habit actually can turn it into an obsession. And not doing it can be just the opposite side of the same coin, maintaining the same weird relationship with whatever it was. So, ultimately, we may crave a kind of non-attachment, a no-habit way of life, in which we can do whatever we want, but don’t have to do anything at all. And that sure does begin to sound other-worldly, saintly, beyond human. 

So in the end, we may just settle for a few, harmless habits, like watching too many movies or drinking that perfect cup of coffee, hoping nobody will notice, not even me. 

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About Rebecca Reynolds

Leadership Guru; Systems Thinker; Complex Problem Solver; Facilitative Leader...also LOVE life, dog Wiley, good food, Malbec, forests, oceans, yoga stillness, the boxing bag, ballroom dance, and movies.
This entry was posted in Culture, Film, Food, Social Issues, Spirituality and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Habit: What Makes Us Human?

  1. Sarah Anma says:

    I am wholly identified with my Tea habit. A cuppa black tea with hemp or almond milk as I sit in our picture window and watch the ferries cross Elliot Bay is a habit that I have adapted into my personality.
    And I no longer mind that it is a habit. It gives me pleasure, and I take a week or so off from it now and again (like last week) to appreciate it even more.
    MMmmmmm.

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