I’m a creature of habit. Maybe you are too. Here’s a little quiz to find out.

When you pull your car out of the driveway, do you always turn in the direction you’d go to work five days a week, even if you’re going to the grocery store in the opposite direction? Do you always order fish tacos at your favorite restaurant, even though the place has a long list of tantalizing specials and a four-page menu? When you take your pills in the morning, do you always take them in the exact same order? (I do – the long one first, then the round one, then the triangular one shaped like Viagra, but it’s not.)

If you answered “yes” to all three questions, you might also have a little OCD, but that’s another column. More likely you, like me, are simply a creature of habit, compelled by the fickle finger of fate or unforgiving brain chemistry to repeat patterns of behavior, even when they make no sense. Perhaps most embarrassing is my morning routine: floss gums, brush teeth, gargle mouthwash – in exactly that order. To do otherwise would throw me into a state of confusion and cause me to feel out of sorts the rest of the day.

What do these repetitive, ritualistic behaviors say about the human condition? That Homo sapiens are on autopilot most of the time? That our brains don’t really want to work very hard? That consistency really is the hobgoblin of little minds? Or maybe it’s just that some people (well, maybe a lot) are kind of weird, though fortunately in harmless ways. And if that’s true, so what? What is weird behavior, anyway? I know someone who, after every long recreational run, chants to himself: “Everything is okay, everything is okay, everything is okay.”

Right now, you’re reading the Portland newspaper. When I read the Press Herald (and all other newspapers), I first scan the front-page headlines, read what catches my interest, then immediately turn to the Opinion pages, my favorite part of any paper. I do this every time I pick one up. You may have arrived at this column by first visiting the sports pages or the comics or the business section. If you follow the same pattern every time you read a newspaper, welcome to the club. You’re a creature of habit.

Habit is defined as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” It’s the “hard to give up” part of habits that make them so troubling. This is particularly true of bad habits, like picking your nose or smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. The worst bad habits morph into a special category, called addition. I’m addicted to coffee, reading, writing, walking, morning showers, potato chips and “Frazier” reruns, though some of these things could be considered healthy habits.

— Special to the Telegram


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