On habits

The interesting thing about a habit is that it takes so long to form it and mere seconds to break it. For example, I spent the last week recovering from food poisoning and couldn’t run. This means that I went from being in the habit of running every day to needing to convince myself to put my running shoes on. I have to rebuild the habit of enjoying a run after work, which seems counter-intuitive when you consider how often I run normally and how much I genuinely enjoy the activity. On the other hand, if I find myself lacking time to run on any given day, I find myself itching to engage in the habit.

This is different, and yet very similar, to the habit of bringing my knitting everywhere. I feel naked when my knitting isn’t tucked safely in my purse, yet I can “forget” that it’s in there and not touch it all day. The flip side of this is if I leave my knitting at home on I spend my day feeling antsy, even if it was by choice. This is not because I’m addicted to carrying my yarn around with me, it’s because it feels weird to skip the habit of putting my knitting bag in my work bag, I leave my house feeling like I’ve forgotten something.

Does this mean that habits are addicting? In other words, am I gaining satisfaction from the act of completing the activity or the activity itself? My habit of washing my sheets every week is not exciting, but crawling into clean sheets Sunday night is. I don’t get excited about putting my knitting bag in my work bag, but I do smile at the thought of sneaking a few rows in between meetings. Sometimes I do enjoy slipping into my running shoes, and sometimes I go because I know it’s good for me. In the case of the sheets, the activity is not satisfying but the reward of crawling into bed later is. Depending on the knitting project or running route, the act of putting my knitting bag in my work bag or my running shoes on my feet is the satisfying piece of the habit.

So which is it? The habit or the activity that follows? In the Journal Article Habits without values, researchers discovered that rats will pull a known lever over a knew lever even if the new lever provides the treats. This supports the idea that a habit can be completed regardless of the outcome attached. This means I can put on my running shoes (the habit), go for a terrible run and do it all again the next day with no expectation that it will be better. The same can be said of putting my knitting bag in my work bag and washing my sheets. The habit does not need to lead to a reward (but when the reward is there it’s nice).

So perhaps the act of putting my knitting bag in my work bag is satisfying because it is a habit. Perhaps a habit is just something you do out of the comfort of repetition, after all, is this not why I find comfort in the knit stitch? Perhaps I find comfort in knowing that I will wash my sheets every Sunday and that I will put my sneakers on and go for a run after work.

Does this make me less adaptable? Does it mean that I am less open to new things or change? I would like to think it doesn’t, but I also find myself reaching for my sock needles whenever I am in between projects and am not sure what to make next. There are perks to having habits, even within your craft. I suppose the trick is to not allow your habits dictate your flexibility and way of thinking.

On that note, I’m off to figure out what yarn I want to use to make my partner a birthday gift. And in true habitual nature, it’ll probably be a nice pair of warm cozy socks.

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