Creatures of habit.

HabitWe know that, as human beings, our behaviour is habit-forming. They say that if you force yourself to do something for 21 days them it becomes a habit; psychologists have devoted extensive time and effort to finding out how habitsĀ form and classed the 21-day rule a myth.

We do know, however, that habits can form because of "context-dependent repetition" - repeatedly performing a certain task in a certain environment or at a given time will create a causal link in our minds between the two. I used to revise for exams to music, the same music each time for the same subject, so that I could form a bond between what I heard and what I read - playing the music back in my head would call forth the subject studied.

Sights, sounds and smells all bring things to mind on an unconscious level so it is no surprise that we are able to use a context-dependent strategy for trying to train our behaviour.

As bloggers we are told to write something every day so as to get in the habit. You don't have to hit "publish" each time but as long as you have taken the time to write you will open yourself up to it becoming second nature.

Drop it like it's hot

What is, quite probably, easier than forming a habit is dropping one. Changes to our circumstances, even for just a short period, can have a significant impact in our behaviour. If we remove ourselves (or are removed) from our normal patterns then our context is altered and those actions dependent on specific circumstances are quick to fall away.

My own behaviour is largely governed by the daily routine where up to four hours a day is spent commuting back and forth. This is a large slice of the day and is normally filled with checking RSS feeds, time on social networks and - most importantly - thinking and writing. Many of my posts are written, at least in draft, whilst travelling to or from work.

Being removed from this routine - by recently being off sick from work for a week, for example - begins to erode the context dependency between activities and their triggers. In addition, as the trigger does not exist for a time, the likelihood is that we are less likely to undertake the same activities under a different set of circumstances.

It is remarkable how quickly behaviour can alter when our environment is changed; communicating on social networks or blogging are no exceptions which is why casual participation is largely ineffective if we are trying to build an audience or influence.


There are times when I experience periods of apathy towards social and blogging. Sometimes things have become stagnant and boring, others I experience a sense of frustration over lack of engagement.

Looking back, however, I realise that further periods are due to changes in routine and environment causing the breakdown of this contextual dependency between the acts and their triggers such as with this current malaise.

The act of both writing and posting this is, perhaps, a kind of therapy - a first step back toward normality.

Image by roland

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Colin Walker Colin Walker colin@colinwalker.blog