Memory, Habits, and Doorways

Tis the season to NANOWRIMO. Fa la la la la la la la lahhhh.

For several years in a row, I’ve signed up to write fifty thousand words in the month of November. I do so knowing that my life is not conducive to such output. I am not setting myself up for failure. I am hoping to foster the habit of writing daily. I am not alone, and while I’ve already seen some of my friends cross the 50K finish line, I know many more of them are trucking along or even puttering along with a mumble mumble current word count.

So,  just for laughs, let’s talk about habit a little more. Habits can be good or bad. Yes, procrastination, I am definitely looking at you. It seems the better a habit is for you, the harder it is to build. The worse it is for you, the harder it is to break.

Consider exercise as my example for a good habit. You can search the internet and find an abundance of advice on making exercise a habit. (Please consult your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen.) You can also explore the science behind why it is good for you and why it is difficult, at least for some people, to get started and maintain.

I started to choose smoking as my bad habit example. I know it is a matter of recreational choice for some; it wasn’t a judgment on my part. I was considering people in my life that have had difficulty achieving permanent cessationCigarettes containing nicotine are addictive and that lies beyond habit. Willpower has to factor in for a repeated action to be considered a habit and not an addiction.

Instead, consider poor dietary choices my bad habit example. This works out even better because it gives us a chance to briefly discuss factors that influence choice. I will head to McDonald’s for lunch if given half a chance. It is not the most expensive meal option in the vicinity of my office. The food is fresh, warm, and not prepared by me. I usually order the same things and have an expectation of how they will taste, how satisfying they will be. Preference and economy are factors that influence this choice out of the list given in the Habit article on Wikipedia. I just wanted to offer you more.

So where am I going with all of this? You know that I procrastinate. I find it difficult to exercise on a regular basis. I have a bad habit of eating things that are not healthy for me. I want to turn the action of writing daily into a habit that will achieve some level of automaticity.

The habit–goal interface is constrained by the particular manner in which habits are learned and represented in memory. Specifically, the associative learning underlying habits is characterized by the slow, incremental accrual of information over time in procedural memory. (Wendy Wood and David T. Neal A New Look at Habits and the Habit–Goal Interface American Psychological Association.  2007, Vol. 114, No. 4, 843–863. Page 850 Retrieved on November 21, 2011 via Habit Wikipedia Article)

Memory really does astonish me. The more I learn about it, the more I realize it is at the core of so much of who we are and how we function. I want to accomplish more on a timely basis. I want to exercise more and eat healthier to improve my overall appearance and health. I want to increase my word count. Each of these desired habits have attached goals. I am motivated to achieve. I just need to find the right combination of willpower and behaviour modification to repeat these actions until they become a habit.

Oh how I long for a short cut. Dear people of science and fiction, this is where you come in. Tell me about the science that gets me from point A to B. Tell me about the advances current or due in the future that help a person create good habits and continue them and help a person to kill the bad habits. What fiction have you read that relates to memory and habits?

Now to explain the doorways reference. Have a read for yourself: Walking through doorways causes forgetting, new research shows. This leads me to question whether all this habit building will be worth it in the end, if I can forget it when I step out of the room. Just kidding. I thought it was a neat article. It certainly sounds familiar. It also made me think about the folks that use the visualization of rooms to mentally sort things. I wonder what happens when you cross a mental threshold. I’d like your thoughts on it.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.