Habits: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Humans are habitual by nature. We all have habits, some good and some bad. By definition a habit is “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”. [1] We have so many things going on daily, how can we keep up? Each day we can complete tasks like eating, driving to work, and cooking meals, because we have formed habits. “Habits help us through our day. When we are doing something that is habitual, we are not engaged in the task in the same way as when we are doing something that is not habitual.” [2] Let’s say, every morning I wake up and get a cup of coffee before I start my daily warm-up and stretches. I know exactly where the cups, coffee, and creamer are. I literally wake up, roll out of bed and walk into the kitchen half asleep. Now, suppose I’m on a business trip and staying in a hotel. It’s going to be a bit more problematic finding all the pieces of my morning coffee puzzle, and I certainly won’t be able to complete it half asleep. Simply put, by engaging in something that is not habitual or not in the same context as your habits you are forced to be more aware.

This post is about the changing of habits, specifically changing ones that affect your day to day life and help create a safer environment for you and your family. Do you drive the same route to work, to drop the kids off at school, to go to the grocery? Do you do these tasks at the same times on the same days? These are all habits that we’ve created through trial and error. Leaving five minutes later causes you to be fifteen minutes late to work. Leaving seven minutes earlier, you arrive before the building is open. Most of us use the first route that pops up on the GPS, right? Which route do you think a rapist or kidnapper will use? Probably the first route that pops up on his GPS too. The best way to deter this is to vary your routes and times. You don’t have to change your routes or times daily, but pay attention to the patterns you set. Maybe leaving seven minutes earlier isn’t a bad thing. Instead of going straight to work, stop and get a bagel. This, in itself, increases your safety. You are going to a public place and no one else knows you are stopping. A couple common patterns we set are, always parking in the same parking spot in the garage at work and going to the gym at the same time everyday.

Not all habits are bad. For this post, I’m defining a bad habit as giving predictability or creating a less safe environment. We have already discussed varying your routes to the places you most frequent. Lets examine a different type of habit we can all work on, situational awareness. What are the first things you look for when entering building? I look for six things every time; my automatic scan, if you will.

1) Exits – Not just emergency exits but any way I can get out (i.e. what windows can I break and climb out?)

2) Reflective surfaces – Using reflective surfaces to get different angles and perspectives I don’t have with direct eye sight.

3) Fire extinguishers – No explanation needed.

4) Weapons of opportunity – Anything I can use to defend myself.

5) Cameras – May be a deterrent but I wouldn’t rely on that. I try staying in camera view so that an assailant(s) can be identified (only helpful after the fact).

6) Light switches – Especially useful when you are more familiar with the layout building than the assailant(s).

 These are just six things I have decided that I need to give me a better chance of surviving several dangerous situations. This is not a complete list but should be used as a guideline. It’s for you to decide what situations you may encounter and create your own list of what you believe will give you a better chance of survival.

Creating habits that don’t give predictability and increase your situational awareness may seem like a pain to remember and do, but how many other habits do you have that were hard at first? Furthermore, how many of those habits increase you and your family’s safety and chances of survival? Take a minute and exam what your habits are. Do they make you predictable? If so, which ones are worth changing?

1. Habit. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved December 8, 2013, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/habit

2. Ian Newby-Clark, We Are Creatures of Habit, Psychology Today, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creatures-habit/200907/we-are-creatures-habit (July 17, 2009)

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