The Power of Habit

Saturday, March 14, 2015 17:53 Posted by Leo Saumure 0 comments
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessThe Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I started out reading this book with a lot of optimism. The author had began by talking about the science behind habit. Granted it was a bit of dumbed down version of science, but it was grounded in science none-the-less.

The following chapters took less of a researched base approach, and more of a story-telling approach to explaining habit; which other readers had admonished him for, but I thought it worked in the first couple of chapters. Then he went off the science and evidence formula and just dove into what seemed to be his own pet theories. This started with the Alcoholics Anonymous chapter.

I had two problems with this chapter; the first being that AA has a horrible and largely unpublicised record of reforming alcoholics, so using AA as an example of using good habit to reforming bad habit seemed doomed from the start. The second problem I had with this section is that the author pretty much admits that the research on AA is spotty at best, but he still decides to bend and twist his theory in order to relay what he believes to be a good story. Speaking of bending a twisting, there were also a couple of REALLY tortured analogies he used later on to discuss habit.

One of the chapters he does this in was about the civil rights movements where he tries to shoe-horn social ties and peer pressure into the habit definition. But the worst example of this bending and twisting to make it fit his idea is the sleep-walking/night terrors section. In this chapter, he claims that a clinical disorder is basically a habit. At which point in the book, I just sort of tuned out.

The appendix at the end gave some good examples of using habit to reform habit, which kind of brought the book back for me. In the end, I would have like to see more science in this book, a little less analogy, and a lot less conflation of habit with every thing a human does.

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Habitual or OCD?

So as usual, on Mondays, I do all the housework which includes vacuuming, dusting, cleaning floors and bathroom, making lunchtime snacks (banana bread or muffins), and laundry. Today, rather than listening to podcasts while I folded the laundry, I took the ear-buds out and decided to simply let my mind wander (a dangerous prospect at best).

So as I was folding laundry, I noticed that I fold everything in a very particular way, and unless something really strange happens, I never deviate from those methods. For instance, when I fold underwear, I always:

  1. Make sure they're turned right-side out
  2. Lay it flat
  3. Fold the right side 1/3 of the way
  4. Fold the left side 1/3 of the way covering the folded right side
  5. I then roll the underwear, top down, into a little tight roll
  6. Lastly, when I place it in the drawer, each pair of underwear is oriented the same way.
After I'm done, they look like the underwear equivalent of an uncooked Pillsbury Crescent roll tube. Only my underwear isn't nearly as yummy. Anyway, it occurred to me that this is a lot more work than would be required for putting away underwear. I'm not saying that I would just bunch them in a wad and throw them in a drawer, but why do I go through the whole process? Why is it necessary for me to make sure they're not inside out? Why do I make sure they are oriented the same way within the drawer? I'm not saying that if I deviated from this method that it would bother me. I don't lay awake at night wondering if my underwear is all oriented properly.

I also fold socks a particular way. In fact, because of the way I fold socks, when I was becoming a trainer with Canadian Blood Services, I used it to demonstrate my training abilities. I purchased three pairs of socks, and created a full 12 page, detailed and illustrated Standard Operating Procedure that would demonstrate to my trainees how to fold socks properly! How weird is that?

The correct way to fold a pair of socks

One funny thing about my sock folding is that I can not have them folded improperly. For instance, if while putting away laundry, I find a pair of socks in Kristie's drawer that she unfolded and then folded herself, in my non-anal-retentive manner. I actually do feel compelled to take them out and fold them properly.

The bottom line is, I think there may be a very fine line between habit and mental disorder.

Real life needs cut and paste

So, as I've mentioned before, most of the "artwork" (term used loosely)  that I create is done using digital tools: GIMP, InkScape, Scribus, MyPaint, etc. and most of them are free. So when I dove into the idea of real-world doodles, I stopped into a two-dollar shop and purchased a little coil bound notebook as well as a box of coloured pencils. Here's what I found out about cheaping out on products:

Cheap-O-Joes Art-O-Rama

The coil bound notebook isn't too bad, the paper is fairly thick, not as thick as good cardstock, but good for a little doodling notebook. I did notice that when colouring on the paper there are a few noticeable etch lines defects within the paper, nothing to keep me from using it, but when you use coloured pencils you will notice that there will be some artifacts occurring on the sheet.

Speaking of coloured pencils, I would recommend that if you're going to buy art supplies, such as coloured pencils, that you don't cheap out. The ones I bought from the two-dollar shop seemed fine at first, but I noticed the poor quality when I tried to sharpen the pencils. I stuck the pencil in the sharpener, began twisting, and each time I pull out the pencil, the coloured lead kept breaking off. When I finally managed to keep the lead intact, I noticed that the lead actually started protruding from the top of the pencil; meaning that the lead wasn't affixed very firmly in the pencil itself!

Long story short (too late), I have decided to keep the notebook, but ditch the pencils for some better quality ones. I just got back from an art store where I purchased a pack of 24 Staedtler pencils for $10.00. If that sounds expensive, remember that this isn't the States, prices here are higher for everything. If that sounds cheap, then...ha-ha! I got a good deal!

Real Life Needs Cut and Paste

Another thing that I've learned by delving into real-life "artwork" is that mistakes aren't as easy to correct as they are in digital format. Two issues will illustrate this. The first is you may notice that the pencil sketch doesn't match the layout of the finished product; the Iguana is not in the same place, and is much bigger in the sketch than it is in the finished product. That is because I didn't like the strange perspective that I originally drew. Basically, the iguana didn't look like it was being pulled by the car.

That actually wasn't too hard to fix in that I just erased the iguana and started again. However, it would have been a lot easier if I created it digitally as all I'd have to do would be select the image portion, cut it, paste it somewhere else on the canvas, and scale it to the size I wanted. It probably would have take about six seconds in total. Instead, I had to erase the whole thing, and try again. It actually took me a few tries as well, because I wasn't happy with the second or third attempts.

The second illustration where cut and paste would have come in handy would explain the presence of the ant in the picture.

My niece, Alianna, asked if I took requests for the doodles. I mockingly said sure, as long as the doodle contains a beach scene, lopsided buildings, a dinosaur and a UFO. To which she wanted to include a penguin, iguana involved in a James Bond car chase.

Done and Done!

Towards the end of the drawing, I wanted to ensure that my niece knew that I had done this specifically for her, so I went onto Facebook, checked the correct spelling of her name, and then wrote it incorrectly on the ink!


Kristie had suggested that I change one of the Ns into an A and then simply add a 2 superscript. So it would be like an N squared. But I didn't think I could make it look that good. So instead, I invented a little ant character that spelled her name improperly.

...the ant is a metaphor for my incompetence.


Anyway, after all of that, I still like how it came out, but would love it if real life could incorporate digital tools.

Pencil Sketch

Real Life Doodles

For a while now, I've been following someone on Google Plus named Jennifer Broderick who posts a doodle-a-day image. All of the images that she posts are absolutely fantastic, and many of them, I would gladly hang on my wall.

Using her as inspiration, I have decided to start doodling myself. Not doodling myself as in drawing myself, but rather I am going to start doodling.  ...but you probably understood what I meant, and I pretty much have just insulted you by clarifying what I meant. Now, I am making it even worse by pointing out that you were insulted, and now you're probably angry and embarrassed. Anyway, back to the doodling.

So I purchased a little coil-bound notebook 14 cm X 21 cm (that's 6 X 8.5 inch for those using imperial), and am using it to keep my doodles. Now, there is no way that I will be posting a doodle-a-day like Jennifer does as with work, life and play, I don't have that kind of time. Plus, I'm a novice doodler, and it takes a few days to complete a doodle the way I want it. Finally, when I usually create anything it is usually done with digital tools like Inkscape, GIMP, MyPaint, etc. So working with real-life tools is something I have to get use to. Regardless, of all of that, I'd like to strive to post a doodle-a-week.

So, without further ado, here is my first doodle.

Pencil concept
The pencil concept took me about an hour or so, working about 5 minutes at a time, wherever I could find a free moment, or needed a break in my day.

Ink and coloured pencils
The coloured pencil version, which I just noticed is actually incomplete as I didn't colour the palm tree, took a couple days. Again, this is due to the fact that I only work on it here and there, whenever I find a free minute or so.