Where does it turn?

The question that has been in my mind thinking about this next post and question for discussion is: when does repetition turn from reassurance to warning sign? Are they simply two different patterns or is there a connection between comfort and destruction? In considering these things, I came across a very interesting article on the World of Psychology blog, by Ray Lumpp. In his article, Habit Formation and the Rat Race, Lumpp discusses a study at MIT finding habit formation takes place in the prefrontal cortex of the brain rather than in the subconscious:

Until now, psychologists and behavioral therapists believed that habits were hidden in the illusive “subconscious.”

But the MIT study shows that the brain is not just aware of habits: it controls them completely, moment by moment. And no matter how long the habits have existed, we can now shut them off, as by the flip of a switch.

The researchers formed habits through repetition and aural cues in mice running through a simple maze over the course of a few weeks. Once they had shown that the habit was fully ingrained, the researchers broke it by interfering with a part of the prefrontal cortex known as the infralimbic (IL) cortex. Using optogenetics, a technique that allows researchers to inhibit specific cells with light, the researchers blocked IL cortex activity for several seconds as the rats approached the point in the maze where they had to decide which way to turn.

Read the article

We all have habits, mostly routines that help us get through our day and let us focus on important things that need our attention. These habits help us relax or just give us a bit of comfort in the ‘known quantity’. But when do these habits turn into warning signs?

When do you take warning from a habit?


5 thoughts on “Where does it turn?

  1. An interesting discussion with RECURSIVE exhibiting artist, Hitomi Kammai, on the post ‘A Different Repetition’ relates to the current discussion topic: When do you take warning from a habit?

    Hitomi says, “Let’s see, like our body has a metabolism, our life definitively repeats itself on some levels. But too much repetition scares me. I remember the story when one wakes up and has to repeat the same day over and over. And tomorrow never comes. Isn’t this horrible? Our life is to progress. But sometimes, for different reasons, this is not easy.”

    My reply was, “I agree with you, too much repetition is scary. That relates to the latest discussion topic: When do you take warning from a habit? I can’t quite imagine what it would be like to relive the same day over and over again, never seeing tomorrow. I think that is a common notion of hell. It certainly relates to feelings of deja vu and lucid dreams. Both phenomena can be very unnerving, to say the least, and downright nightmarish at worst. I’ve had strong feelings of deja vu, especially when I find myself in a place I’ve never been before but realize I’ve dreamt of myself in that place and can remember the dream. That is a completely unnerving experience. I’ve also had lucid dreams where I keep waking up into the same dream, those dreams are frightening and nightmarish, even if the recurring dream is not a nightmare. I remember when I have finally woken from those dreams, having to really orient myself and convince myself I’m awake. Thankfully, I don’t have those too often, just the more common lucid experience of knowing I’m dreaming. I can remember once realising that I was at the very beginning of a dream, before the imagery started. Everything was grey and then I watched as the dream started to play out. That was a curious experience too.”

    Whether or not warning can be taken from a dream is a question for a psychoanalyst. The repetitive dreams I had as a child probably would be considered warnings of distress I was experiencing. but Hitomi’s comment that too much repetition is scary, is right on target for this discussion. I’ve found that in personal relationships, my negative or distressing repetitive behaviour or responses usually mean there is an underlying issue I need to address. I’ve learned to be wary of repetition that does not produce beneficial results or positive interactions – either my own or those of others towards me. This has led me into all sorts of fascinating and painful explorations and discoveries, and I’m happy to say, mostly with positive outcomes and resolutions. I consider this repetition as a positive warning of potentially damaging repetitive behaviour. Though the journey of discovery might be excruciatingly painful, I’m always grateful for the warning sign.

  2. My experience has been similar in that each time a habit becomes closer to a need or a must do, whether in my work or in my personal life, it is time to explore what is underneath that…usually my desire, need, etc. to control my environment to ward of feelings of chaos. Each time I have broken a habit that was bordering on need/obsession I have grown from the experience finding that I can let go and discover what is beyond the compulsion to control and predict. As has been shared, it is painful and scary, but oh so necessary and rewarding.

    1. Thanks Constance, glad to know I’m not the only one to do that! The interesting thing is the scale it takes, from habits which just produce annoying and awkward problem solving that don’t work very well, right through to major life changing discoveries dealing with painful habits. I’ve always felt there is a significance to taking the time and risk to look at the habit, rather than just ignoring it. I guess that’s what personal responsibility is all about.

  3. I came across this from “Difference and Repetition” as I was making a reply to Hitomi on ‘A Different Repetition’: “For it is perhaps habit which manages to “draw” something new from a repetition contemplated from without. With habit, we act only on the condition that there is a little Self within us which contemplates: it is this which extracts the new – in other words, the general – from the pseudo-repetition of particular cases. Memory, then, perhaps recovers the particulars dissolved in generality…It is in repetition and by repetition that Forgetting becomes a positive power while the unconscious becomes a positive and superior unconscious (for example, forgetting as a force is an integral part of the lived experience of eternal return).” (p.8-9).

    This makes me think of the cult movie “Paris, Texas” directed by Wim Wenders, written by Sam Shepard. Harry Dean Stanton’s character is portrayed as wilfully wandering the American desert to forget. It’s a powerful image and one which perhaps illustrates Nietzsche’s ‘Eternal Return’. Am I on the mark here? What do you Nietzsche fans think?

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