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Creatures of Habit

In common with many people, I tend to associate songs played on the radio with particular points in my life.  For example, Katrina and the Waves’ track  ‘Walking on Sunshine’ takes me back to my university days when the band played there.

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I was the Student Unions Entertainments Officer at the time and got to be their roadie for the night . (My only claim to fame!). Whenever I hear the track it still triggers the feeling of energised excitement I felt on that night and I smile.

On the other hand, ‘Morning’ from Grieg’s ‘Peer Gynt’ was played at my father’s funeral five years ago. Whenever I hear it, I am transported back the feelings of grief and loss I experienced that day.

Our senses often act as a trigger to our emotions but so can certain actions particularly if they are repeated enough times.

I am, I confess, a creature of habit. More often than not, I will eat ‘Special K’ breakfast cereal in the morning (other breakfast cereals are available!). I originally started this years ago as part of ‘The Special K Diet’. Despite having long giving up the notion of the diet, I still follow the same breakfast routine. I also tend to sit in the same arm chair in the lounge and as a Headteacher, I always drove the five-mile journey to work along the same road.

As the job I loved started to get on top of me ten years ago, I started to experience panic attacks on the way to work. They became more frequent as the weeks went by, occurring at the same roundabout at the half way point on the way work (although strangely not on the return journey). Unconsciously, the roundabout had become a visual trigger for feelings of anxiety.

The answer was blindingly obvious looking back. Vary the route. A simple but effective strategy that had to be pointed out to me because I was busy and my behaviour so ingrained, that I could not see the wood for the trees. Devising three or four different routes and varying them on a fairly spontaneous basis, disrupted the negative cycle that I had got myself into.

It easy for habitual behaviour to trigger negative emotions. The answer often does not need to be massive change. Small alterations in our habits and routines can be enough to block negative emotions and block cyclical patterns of behaviour.

Try varying your route. You end up noticing your environment a lot more too!

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