Creatures of Habit
Alarm rings. Wake up at 7:30, as you always do. Walk 15 steps into the restroom where you brush your teeth and brush your hair as always. Pull on your favorite trusty shirt, probably obtained from some unmemorable event you’ve been to, but you still wear it because it’s one of the most comfortable things you own. It’s one of 5 t-shirts you rotate despite having a closet closet full of expensive labels and lofty aesthetic goals floating in the back of your head. And you go to class. Why are we like this? Why, despite endless variety and the boundless opportunity to be vibrant and eccentric do we settle for congruity shaped by the weeks and months of our lives before?
Implicit memory is a powerful thing. Such processes are ingrained in our minds, believed to make our lives easier by reducing the energy required for menial tasks. We don’t forget how to walk or unlock our iPhones. In much the same way we simplify most processes to a defining heuristic, we, as a collective whole, live our daily lives on autopilot as well.
But there’s nothing wrong with that. We break habits just as often as we form them:
“I promised myself I wouldn’t go downtown this weekend.”
“I told myself I would stop talking to X.”
“I need to take better care of my liver.”
The more you think about the things we tell ourselves and how we punish and justify our actions, the more apparent it becomes that we live carefully insulated lives. Habitual behavior exists in all aspects of our lives, dictating the plans we make, the people we associate with, and the actions we perform. At some point, it seems as if we are only semi-autonomous sentient beings fine-tuned to avoid discord.
But we hear age-old maxims pointing to an opposite mentality. Finding comfort in discomfort; stepping outside of the box to gain originality and perspective; growing in adversity. So these people DO exist. Proponents of growth-by-trial. Splinter group adherents that believe that life is defined by breaking and forming habits, rather than watching it pass by safely in the distance through a thick glass window as you barrel down the road.
The more I think back on my own habits, the more I see the false sense of comfort I fell into. I lived for a status quo and familiarity rather than exceeding limits and seeking growth. It’s a human mistake we all make but rarely correct. And comfort in habits, though primal in nature, seems to represent this invisible line in the sand that separates those seeking safety from those that live fiercely. And though I wouldn’t say any of us are absolutely one or the other, perhaps the best place to exist is right on that invisible line. So in an effort to live more vivaciously, here are some of my own resolutions to break my own habits of comfort:
Pushing through the pain of mile 5 with the understanding that the finish line is within sight.
Accepting eccentricities as something noteworthy, and not something to be hidden.
Understanding that the fast-track in life is not always the answer, much like how the interstate is most often the least scenic route to a final destination, and how a thick glass window shields you from feeling the dirt, rain, wind, sun, and sand in your hair.
Every pre-med student is conditioned to believe that they are infallible, with a strong internal locus of control (and ego) to match the almost certain fact that being a physician is an inevitable end. But we never think about the means. Learning that I was prone to mistakes and screwing up was the most humbling experience in my life, and taking the time to slow down and consolidate demonstrated more of my capabilities and resilience than any standardized MCAT, GPA, or predictive metric on my transcript ever could. Becoming more than a statistic is a lesson that I learned at the tail-end of my college experience, but I think the only way to learn transformative lessons like these is to go through it and struggle, but also revel in the fact that you will be humbled and grateful for everything achieved thereon. Everyone’s path forward is different, but learning to turn off autopilot by being ok with not completing the prototypical pre-med checklist and finding the value in my environment and people around me became the greatest source of personal growth and fulfillment in my four years at UT. If the many students that come after me could learn the same lesson at an earlier stage, then perhaps maybe our paths wouldn’t feel so scary.