Creatures of Habit

August 15, 2010 at 5:07 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , )


People really are creatures of habit. When pushed out of our comfort zones we tend to act a little lost for about five minutes and then we create a whole new comfort zone and find a new pattern to fall into. Over and over again we find a rhythm and steadfastly stick to it until something actively forces us out of it.

It’s all the little things that are telling. While the big events change from day to the day, the small details tend to remain stuck in time.

For instance: What hand do you reach into the cutlery drawer with? Have you ever thought. Start checking when you go to the drawer. You’ll notice you almost always use the same hand, and not only that you will always grab the cutlery in pretty much the same order. For me, I tend to go knife and then fork, unless I’m carrying something and then I’ll be using my off-hand and go through the drawer from the other direction. Weird but true. I’ve also watched people actually swap the hand they were using to carry a plate in order to ensure that they are reaching into the cutlery drawer with the same hand. They don’t realise they’re doing it – it’s an unconscious action – but they can’t help themselves.

Everyday we do things in the exact same way. When you get into the car do you belt up first or start the car? Do you check the mirror before you start backing out or do you wait until you’ve finished reversing before you look up and realise someone has moved the mirror?

However the big thing that nobody every really seems to notice is that they almost always walk the same path. Regardless of whether it has been five minutes or five years, when walking through a space people tend to follow the same line they followed the first time. For some, that means stalking straight across the middle of the space, while others skirt in a slight arc so that they are not in the middle but still cutting it close. Others still are happy to give the middle as wide a gap as possibly and hug the edges. Whichever they do, they’ll repeat their steps almost every time until someone drops something directly in their path. Then they take the next path of least resistence.

What strange creatures we are. What strange creatures are characters must be if they are to really ring true.

What habits have you noticed in yourself?

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10 Comments

  1. Alex Willging said,

    I tap my foot, I tilt my head when reading, I rub my cheek when listening to someone talk, and so on. I’m very tactile without realizing it, like my hands always have to be doing something. I’m trying to integrate it into one my characters in my current WIP. Good post, Cassandra.

  2. Carol Ann Hoel said,

    Interesting thoughts, Cassandra. It is a good ploy for marking a character. I pace back and forth while talking on the phone. Drives my hubby nuts. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Olivia J. Herrell said,

    Hi Cassandra, I loved this post. Found you through Barb’s blog and yay for me! Congratulations on your award (post below). Yes, we are definitely creatures of habit. One of mine that disconcerts people (and I’ve used it in my current wip) is that I stare off in to space when I’m thinking. Even in the middle of a conversation. The person will usually turn around to see what I’m looking at with such focus.

    You pegged us. Glad I found you.

    ~that rebel, Olivia

  4. Agatha82 said,

    I twirl my hair a lot or twist the rings around my fingers, both nervous ticks and I’ve used both ticks for my main female character hee hee

  5. Alex J Cavanaugh said,

    You’re right. I am very much a creature of comfort and habit. Mornings I am on total auto pilot. I’m also a habitual hand washer.

  6. Jemi Fraser said,

    I’m definitely a creature of habit – and I tend to hug those sidelines. I’m getting better at aiming for that middle 🙂

  7. Levi Montgomery said,

    “However the big thing that nobody every really seems to notice is that they almost always walk the same path.”

    Actually, I have noticed this, especially as it regards the “constant” paths in our lives — walking to work, down to the bus stop, to the local grocery, whatever.

    In one of my novellas, the protagonist, stuck in one time and space (internally speaking) for twenty years and craving change only slightly less than he fears it, is on his way to work, and he “…crosses the street, walks on the wrong side all the way to work, gazing into all the wrong windows.”

  8. Carol J. Garvin said,

    I often give my DH a bad time about being a creature of habit because he does things in pretty much the same order and at the same time every day, but I’m just as bad. I thought back to earlier this evening and realized that I always water the deck tubs and hanging baskets in the same order. When I’m cleaning the bathrooms I do the sinks and counters first, then the tubs, then the toilets.

    Gee, thanks Cassandra. Now I’m going to be watching myself to see what else I do habitually! 😉

  9. Smander said,

    This is great. I was talking about this to my boyf the other day. We noticed that despite the many choices across the park, everyone chose the same path. Not only were they being habitual in their individual behaviour, choosing the same route day after day on their way to work, but they were also following the herd!

    I also noticed that I always clean the bathroom in a strict routine. Lame but true.

  10. Carol Kilgore said,

    Excellent post. I noticed the other day that I take the same path every day from the stairs to my office, and it’s the longer path. I wonder why? When I think about it now, I choose the shorter one.

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