This is branched off of the discussion at Thoughts and experiences with big(ger) pledge Amounts?
In response to someone’s claim that habits should become automatic in 1-3 months, I said:
My view: habits definitely exist.
@kenoubi’s suggestion that habits take zero effort after repetition is not the only possible mechanism for a habit. Another way habits could work is that doing the behavior still takes effort, but not doing it brings some feeling of discomfort that is strong enough to make your default action be to do the behavior.
Here are a few examples:
Hygenic habits - not washing your hands after using the bathroom can trigger a feeling of disgust or uncleanliness sufficient to make you wash your hands. Same goes with, e.g., going to bed without brushing your teeth.
Safety habits - not wearing a seatbelt or helmet can trigger a feeling of feeling unsafe sufficient to make you use the safety device.
Completion/cleanup habits - if you’re used to some kind of completion or cleanup after doing something, leaving it unfinished, undone, or uncompleted can trigger a feeling of discomfort that something is still hanging and needs to be done.
Note that these habits are not formed solely by repetition - rather, they require repetition combined with some sort of emotional association like “I better wash my hands so I don’t get sick” or “I need to clean up after using the blender” which over time creates a feeling of discomfort when you don’t do the behavior.
Also note the analogy with memory - to memorize a text, it is not sufficient to repeat it many times. There are many people who speak a text aloud regularly but haven’t memorized it. You have to have a certain intent to remember it, a certain feeling of “this has to come next after this” that you consciously embed along with the sequence. As with habits, memorizing works best if you include an emotional association.
In the other thread, @lanthala discussed navigation:
Navigation is similar - repetition combined with a certain conscious feeling of “this is the route, this is the first step, then I do this, in order to get to my destination” leads to being able to navigate to the destination unconsciously.
Like @lanthala, I’ve also noticed the “default autopilot” situation of heading towards a common destination without thinking about it - this is a clear example of a habit to me.
@lanthala refers to this as “muscle memory” - I see muscle memory as different than navigation. With muscle memory, it’s totally physical - you learn a specific sequence of physical actions (piloting a hang glider, swinging a golf club, performing a squat with correct form), by consciously thinking about each step as part of a sequence that you’re learning, and eventually the sequence becomes “chunked” into what seems like one physical action.
It’s also interesting to note the resemblance to OCD here. With OCD, the feeling of “I need to do this next” becomes so overpowering that you can’t stop it even when you know it’s harmful. As with habits, the feeling of discomfort from OCD often comes up in a hygenic or safety context.