Force of Habit

I’m normally a creature of habit; I buy fruit and don’t eat it; I always set the alarm clock earlier than I should, then hit the snooze button until I feel like getting up; I always buy the same brand of toothpaste, even if there are deals on other brands. This behavior on my part is a mystery, even to me. If I could explain why I act the way I do, I’d probably be a lot more content. It’s when I deviate from the typical pattern that things can happen, good and bad.

Case in point, one Sunday. I got up and decided to make coffee. Normally, I put in the filter first, then the coffee, and finally the water, but for some reason, I veered from my usual routine and put in the water first. My way of being spontaneous, I suppose. When I went to get the filter, I realized I didn’t have any, which I should have already known, since I’ve been reminding myself to pick some up for quite awhile. I knew I was running low, but I never got around to it. So, now I had a coffee machine full of water, and I knew it would be weeks before I remembered to go to the store to get more filters. One would think a person could unplug a coffee machine, remove it from its resting place and transport it to the sink without incident, but not me. Rather than gather the cord after unplugging the machine, I lifted the machine and let the plug drag behind, which caught the carafe, which probably wasn’t well placed at the edge of the table, and led to the carafe falling on the ground, where it, of course, broke.

No coffee for me at home for a while.

Habits can be a comforting way of dealing with life, a beacon of familiarity in an otherwise chaotic world. One may not be able to predict how work will go, but every morning at 6 a.m. there’s that cup of coffee, and pastry waiting to help one start the day. Security experts caution against getting into patterns of behavior that malicious individuals can memorize to exploit for their own gain, but despite this, most people follow a typical routine, waking up, getting breakfast, getting showered, and dressed, and leaving the house on a regular schedule each day. Humans love patterns, the familiarity of a commonly traveled route; knowing that when one arrives at work, the faces will most likely be the same; the knowledge of who will react in what way at a meeting; the relief of a regularly scheduled after work gathering. They can have a calming influence on the individual, leaving one feeling grounded, and centered.

Habits can also be destructive. Getting stuck in the same routine day after day, can leave one feeling disinterested, disengaged, and lacking purpose. For an individual with obsessive-compulsive disorder, habits can be like prisons from which he or she cannot escape. Every action becomes a ritual that must be rigidly followed, though one can rarely say why. Even for those who do not suffer a particular disorder, getting stuck in a familiar routine can be very frustrating, always seeing the same people, and interacting with them in the same way. Breaking out of the routine can be difficult, but sometimes leads to great rewards.

Prior to April of 2008, it’s doubtful many people in Atlanta knew who I was, other than close family, or those with whom I worked, or knew from the few activities I participated in after work. I was stuck in a rut, going to work, then going home, and rarely interacting with anyone. If interesting things were going on around town, I had very little knowledge of them, and those I knew of, I was usually reluctant to try, for reasons I can’t fully enunciate. I had, for several months, been hearing a local band on WRAS, Georgia State University’s radio station (Save WRAS!), and, as luck would have it, the band was performing in town the day after my birthday, so I made plans to attend. In the late-90s, I had gotten into the habit of going to music venues in town, and enjoyed hearing live music, and interacting with the performers afterward. Attending the show in 2008 reminded me of that, and I decided to start getting out more. Each encounter led to more possibilities, and before I knew it, I wasn’t just watching, but participating in activities I had not imagined just a few months before. I took improv classes at Dad’s Garage, Relapse Theatre, and writing and acting classes at Sketchworks, and started attending plays around town.

Around 2008 or 2009, I formulated what I referred to as my “Five Year Plan” where I set out to become more involved in the creative community around Atlanta, attending plays, listening to live music, attending readings of works in development, and occasionally performing in improv shows. The difference, five plus years later, is striking. Not only do people recognize me when I show up someplace, they expect me to be there. I know many more actors, playwrights, artistic directors, musicians, and tech folks than I could have conceived. I’ve written sketches that have been performed at Sketchworks and other venues around town, and I’m a member of Working Title Playwrights, and regularly interact with others producing work for the stage. While I haven’t yet had a full-length play performed, I’m working constantly toward that goal. Most importantly, I’ve met a lot of great people.

So, I would encourage anyone who feels stuck in a rut, to get out and do something different. Most locations have something interesting going on, it’s just a matter of finding out about it. There’s no telling where it might lead.

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