Ahhhgghhhhhhh!” – it’s been taken, again!!

Ah, my beloved Costa (other coffee house establishments are likewise endorsed)

Humans are creatures of habit. We like things the same. Even those of us who like ‘different’ are heavily influenced by things remaining the same around us and if we’re honest quite like too. Do you really want to come down each morning to find the fridge in a different place?!

So, my “Ahhhgghhhhhhh!” moment was induced by my favourite seat in Costa being occupied by someone else, again. You see, I like sitting there. No other seat feels quite the same. THAT seat is like a well-worn pair of slippers: it’s comfortable, welcoming and just feels right.

Now you might say that I’m waxing lyrical here, even going over the top and in many respects I am. What interests me is what happens to us when what we expect doesn’t occur. Or for that matter what we don’t expect to happen does happen. How do we react? How do we cope?

Ian Newby-Clarke from Psychology Today among many others has written about situations like this and you can read about it here:

He makes the point that habits serve us because our response to them is largely automatic.

They require little if any conscious decision-making allowing us to commit conscious thought processes to those tasks that need it.

There are two sides to every coin though. When the habits serve us well things are hunky dory. We carry on doing them without wasting brain power and this allows us to concentrate on other tasks. The other side of the coin is when the habits we show are not helpful to us such as compulsive behaviour patterns. Anyone who’s witnessed someone, let alone been the person, who must wash their hands every five minutes throughout the day knows how utterly destructive and damaging such a habit can be. And how hard a habit that is to break.

Our unconscious (call it that; it’s far from being a sub-conscious) is designed to keep us safe. It constantly monitors for signs of danger, regulates millions of processes in our bodies and handles emotions among countless other things. It’s designed to work with the conscious mind in an incredibly complex way. It can take over though. As we presently understand it, the unconscious has no ability to rationalise; that’s the role of the neocortex in the conscious part of the mind. The unconscious keeps us ticking over and it does an excellent job of it. As long as it is kept a tight hold of. Allow your unconscious to constantly dictate what happens in your life and suddenly what should serve you know starts controlling you in ways that you don’t want.

What to do

Ask most people what it was like when they gave up smoking , compulsive shopping sprees (that’s similar to the psychological equivalent of giving up an illegal drug according to Donald Black and Professor Whybrow although not everyone such as Professor Calton agrees with this statement) or alcohol addiction and they will tell you that it was hell to break the habit. So in-ground was the habit let alone the chemical addiction caused by the substance that it needed every ounce of their will-power, resources and support from friends and family to break the habit.

All these strategies are important. Together, they are a powerful force. For less crippling habits that you want to break a question to ask yourself is this: What would happen if I didn’t do [whatever it is]?

In the grand scheme of things – whatever I might utter under my breath – the world won’t collapse if I don’t sit in my normal seat in Costa. After all what I do is what I do. Sitting somewhere else doesn’t make any difference to who I am. And that’s the point. What we do is what we do; it doesn’t define who we are. I might not want to do what I’m doing but if I do slip into the habit I’m going to forgive myself and do something different to give me a better chance avoiding doing it again. Does it matter that I do the habit I want to break? Yes. Does it define me? Absolutely not.

I strongly believe that there are many people in this world who haven’t made the separation and are trapped: in stalemate. So, they keep doing the same things and of course keep getting the same outcomes. Separate what you do from who you are. If you take nothing else from today take that message away with you and see what happens.

Now, about that seat in Costa. It’s been free for the past half an hour. And it remains free because I am still sitting where I started writing this blog post. I don’t need to sit there. This seat will do perfectly well, thank you. Well, for this week anyway…