Am I a Creature of Habit?

Grocery shopping – who can relate?

It’s not like we can ignore the need to purchase food products. Whether we shop in big box chains or the corner greengrocer, the majority of us will grocery shop.

But shoppers, like planets aligning around the sun, tend to gravitate to their normal shops.

I visited one of the local grocery stores this weekend – not an unusual occurrence for my weekends – but it wasn’t my ‘normal’ shop.

In the states, grocery chains are huge; one store seemingly much like the next.

EXCEPT . . .

Chains may share a common name, stock basically the same groceries, even offer like discounts, but serious grocery shoppers (I’d be in that category) can attest that differences – small & great – exist among stores within the same chain. This particular grocery-shopping experience won’t make one of my top ten excursion experiences.

What went wrong? 

1) The aisles were T-tiny. That’s Southern for waaay too small. Aisles, especially those in the South, should be wide enough to hold buggy races. And I’m talking lined up side-by-side at the starting gate and racing down the straight away. Yep, that’s the right size.

2) Item signs: those that were visible required 20-15 or maybe 20-10 vision. UNCORRECTED! It was rather like watching baby turkeys in a rainstorm. Everybody looking up, squinting, and bumping into their fellow shoppers. Small signs leads to Road Rage. No really, it’s a scientific fact known by grocery shoppers everywhere.

3) Stocking during peak hours: As a good 80% of the chains are open round the clock or into the wee hours, stocking should NOT take place when loads of hungry, cranky shoppers are crowding too small aisles, looking for products that aren’t listed on any sign. Refer to Road Rage again.

Okay, so why didn’t I just leave and wait to buy groceries later? Why didn’t I go to another, possibly different chain, on down the road? Why didn’t I drive across town to find my ‘normal’ shop?

All good questions. 
How, exactly does being a Creature of Habit impact grocery shopping?
How does being a Creature of Habit impact daily life?
And why should you, a fellow Creature of Habit, care?

We are ALL creatures of habit. And those habits personally & profoundly influence our lives.
If you’re a writer, the ‘creature of habit’ rule influences your characters’ lives.

UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPTUAL BASIC . . .

(don’t get lost in the lingo – keep reading).
Psychology Today has an interesting take on this behavior. Click the link if you want the entire article or let me tuck it in a nutshell for you.

  • 1) We’re creatures. Seems obvious. But the meaning behind that tidbit is that we have certain physical needs that motivate – or push – behaviors to become automatic.

We’re hungry (NEED); we eat (BEHAVIOR).

Suffice it to say that body actions & reactions govern needs that turn into behaviors.

  • 2) We’re, generally, social creatures. Obscure, but accurate. Most of us crave interactions.

We’re lonely or bored (NEED); we leave our shelter and seek out others like – and sometime not like – us (BEHAVIOR).

**This is simplifying needs & responses, but the point is that ‘needy’ factors govern our lives.**

First – How then do we become creatures of habit?

Simple.

If every daily task required studious thought and tedious attention to the step-by-step process, we’d get little accomplished. Most would be overwhelmed by the thought of beginning one multi-step behavior after another.
Consider your morning routine.
We’ll keep it simple. Take 3 basics:

Morning bathroom ablutions
Dressing for the day
Breakfast preparations

Now, consider how many steps go into each process. If you were required to focus on each step to start your morning, how far would you get into the day? Hence, the habit or habits.

If you’re looking to change a bad habit, understand your existing habits, or work with kids’ habits, read some of these articles:

7 Steps to changing a Bad Habit
Human Beings Examined as Creatures of Habit
Back to School, Back to Routines

Second – Personally, what’s the impact?

The good news is habits keep life moving, keep individuals focused, and allow for goals to be realized.

Exercise – it’s habit. Few start an exercise program because they wake up one day and can’t think of another single thing to entertain. No, it boils down to more essential facts.
1) The doctor orders/warns/threatens (with dire consequences) you do it.
2) A spouse, family member, friend motivates you to do it.
3) A training partner dares – or challenges – you to do it.
Eat healthier – it’s habit. See you know where this is going.
Sleep more . . . study more effectively . . . take play time. WAIT! Really? Folks need to develop the habit to take play time. Yes. Every one of us could name at least one individual who falls into the ‘workaholic’ category.

The bad news is that bad habits are easy to develop.

See the above articles. Just like water, folks will take the path of least resistance. That leads to procrastination, lazy behaviors, terrible eating/sleeping/exercising habits, poor work attitudes.
Self-starting, resolve to complete, ability to meet deadlines: all healthy behaviors take a degree of mental toughness and a tenacity to stick to good habits to offset bad ones.

The ugly news is that routines and our ‘creature of habit’ tendencies put as at risk to the unscrupulous types.

Broadcasting routines can lead to dangerous results.

  • Do you jog alone? Always along the same path?
  • Do you habitually park in the same spot at the grocery store?
  • Do you or a family member leave the garage door remote in the car at night?
  • Is your in-car GPS programmed with HOME?
  • When you leave town, do you check-in via social media while at the airport, bus, or train station?

None of this is to make you paranoid. Well, perhaps a bit. More importantly, it’s to make you aware. While cultivating our creature of habit tendencies is part of life, learning to vary those same behaviors can keep us safe.

Third and finally, as writers, attention to detail MUST be paid to a character’s habits. Understanding the motivation or reasoning behind those habits is crucial, but that discussion is for another blog post.

When developing a character schematic or diagram consider:

  • 1) Which behaviors or habits would be obvious based on:

a. Character’s career (consider the difference between the truck driver and the attorney),
b. Character’s education (consider the difference between one who struggled to obtain a GED as to the silver-spoon ivy-leaguer),
c. Character’s life choices (single to married; activist to hermit; corporate ladder-climber to civil servant).

  • 2) If utilizing suspense, horror, or dramatic elements in a novel, then a careful and detailed analysis must be sketched for any and ALL villains. Without focusing on the layers of the suspense, writers will deprive readers of much needed motivation.

**Disclaimer** Please don’t leave a response to point out that these life choices may or may not be polar opposites. They weren’t designed to be. Characters’ history, back-story, education, career will all impact behaviors and habits and need to be considered – seriously – when writing.

  • 3) Consider how the creature of habit behaviors can be utilized in weaving the suspense or horror element into the plot line. Don’t be afraid to consider the obvious and then tweak it to the unexpected.

Along Came A Spider by James Paterson is one of the most keen to illustrate this point. Multiple layers of villains, each with their own agenda, and each character onion to be peeled before the ultimate crime can be solved.

Writers, if unsure how this specially plays into a plotline, please read J.D. Robb’s In Death series. As Lt. Eve Dallas, main protagonist and a homicide detective, focuses intensely on the normal routines of murder victims, she whittles down a suspect list until arrowing in on the ‘who-done-it’. Innocent In Death, my current read, refers to ‘creatures of habit’ in the opening Eve Dallas scene. Broad strokes to narrow lines, the use of everyday is vital in building and then solving suspense. If you prefer a more classic read: select Agatha Christie.

Being creatures of habit is UNAVOIDABLE and not a bad thing. Remember, that your life would move at a snail’s pace if not for scads of daily habits. But never forget to vary your routine for safety sake, and if a writer, never forget to layer in the normal to build the suspense.
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