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Habit-hell is other people('s habits)

When a group of people meet in the same room a number of times, people often remark on how funny it is that they always sit in the same place.

Someone will then say something about ‘force of habit’, and it’s true that we make habitual choices every day. Habits help us to minimise energy used to make decisions.

But every day we manage to overcome our habits, put in a little more energy, so why can’t we overcome this one? Because in some way we feel like we have to overcome all of the energy saved through habitual action by everyone in the room just to make a different decision about where to sit. If we sat somewhere new, perhaps every other person would be forced to use energy to make a decision, too.

So day in, day out (every week in the case of my Arabic class), we sit in the same seat. Not because we wouldn’t mind a change but because we’re worried about the costs of upsetting the low-energy habitual preferences of the group.

This isn’t very different from how social media habits, including apps like WhatsApp, or even carrying a smartphone at all, seem so difficult to change. Many of us want to change, but we’re afraid of how it would affect our friends. The little adjustments that they would have to make, added up across everyone in our lives, is too much for us to overcome, and so we stay in place.

It’s a game theory problem, wrapped in the idea that we’re all acting within a structure, with a hint of alturism. Like all game theory problems, the solution is communication: if we’re open to change, open minded, and relaxed then we need to let others know.

Written on April 12, 2018