It’s tough breaking habits

By Rebecca Nussbaum

Fall wins the award for best-named season. Sure it’s when the leaves fall, but beyond that, it’s when we fall. After spending the summer exploring new jobs, internships and countries, we fall helplessly back into routine. With fall comes the start of the school year, but after the excitement of new classes wears off, I look around and see that I’m in the same place. I have the same friends, I eat the same lunches from the cafeteria and I have the same study habits. Instead of ignoring my United States history reading, I’m not doing art history reading. Big whoop.

Humans are creatures of habit. It’s a cliché because it’s true. In a study published in “Science,” the academic journal for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, physicist Albert-László Barabási studied the movement of 50,000 anonymous mobile phone users. After collecting enough data, he could predict a person’s location at any time with 93 percent accuracy. AOL News summarized the study well: “We are predictable even when we don’t have to be.”

“We are all boring,” Barabási said.

A few weeks ago I epitomized one of the 50,000 “boring” people in Barabási’s study. I’d overslept and was running a bit late but decided to try grabbing coffee. I ran into Starbucks and was greeted by a happy surprise—in the glass case of baked goods were pumpkin scones, and the chalkboard announced the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. My frantic energy melted away as I stared contentedly at the new choices available. So, I went up to the cashier and ordered my usual grande iced coffee.

Rewind. Why did I order iced coffee? I was so excited to see the pumpkin latte on the menu, yet it didn’t even occur to me to order it. By the time the barista made my drink, I grabbed it, embarrassed by my mundane order, and speed-walked to my car.

I’m still embarrassed that I didn’t order that latte. It’s about lifestyle more than the form of my morning caffeine. I learned that my instinct is to stick with what I know.

Breaking a habit takes conscious effort, but it’s something that I will think about from now on. I’ll beat Barabási by being spontaneous not seven percent of the time like the rest of the population… maybe eight.