Habituation

I’ve long fancied the idea that, since we are all products of our environment, were our environment ever to change radically, we could become completely different people overnight.

As you go about your day, think that you always open the door to your bedroom with your left hand, always bend the right elbow at a fifty-five degree angle to lift your backpack up and manipulate it with your other hand, grabbing things from the same pockets you put them in, day in, day out. That you take the stairs in your house up in exactly the same learned fashion, over and over, finishing with the same foot on top; how you get into your car by bending down, swinging your head in and closing the door at the same time, every single day, or that you are inclined to sit on the same seats on the bus without even realizing it consciously, and that for this reason your life becomes one eerie re-enactment of deja vu. You sleep in the same spot on your bed, every night, and every morning you wake up looking at the same drab corner of your room.

Owing to this repetition, our bodies have become trained, or imbalanced, favoring certain parts for certain actions. You hold the heavy pan with your left hand, and give it a shake, while finely controlling the spatula with your right hand to turn the food. Your back is slumped in a dozen ways to fit into the hollows of your computer chair and the cushions of your couch. Each action you perform has trained your body, and now you do it perfectly, with as little thought and effort as possible.

So, pick a man up out of South Africa and plop him down in Australia, and all of this changes. He is no longer calibrated to his surroundings. None of the keys on his belt will open any doors, and once he gets new ones made he will fumble at the lock. He will trip on the porch-step, and hit his head on the car door, and toss and turn in bed. He’ll be a klutz, and he’ll be stressed out by having so many minor changes thrown at him all at once, and he’ll think himself a fool. But I maintain that he’ll be better for it. In two months he’ll look back and laugh that he ever thought this new place so scary.

And then we think bigger: what if a man’s environment were to change about him constantly, continuously? Might he have the perfect physique, devoid of any habituation, utterly aligned and symmetrical? We consider the concept of the “ever-changing horizon,” and we wonder, in spite of obvious difficulty, how rich life would be as a drifter, a rogue, an adventurer—for theirs is a life totally unpredictable, completely fresh and unrehearsed each day. Is that life then one of perpetual learning and adaptation, an ever-renewing fount? Consider their existence: perfectly variegated. Think of their bodies—totally rounded from use.

We could consider a man who hunts his own food, builds shelter, and finds new wood for his fire every night as he traverses the wilder landscapes. But here’s where the pattern fails: the “caveman argument.” Though Paleolithic man may have been more physically fit than us, he was by no means more healthy. Extreme stressors in his environment created a short, brutish existence: cold, disease, rampaging woolly mammoths. An infection for him would spell demise, whereas for us the cure is as easy as taking an antibiotic. There’s got to be a line drawn somewhere. Eventually, change in our environment effects too much stress and becomes a detriment to our well-being.

So that leaves us here in the middle, with an achy back from the office chair, but also unable to walk more than a mile barefoot for fear of horrendous blisters. How far shall we regress—how much change to insert into our lives?

Of course everyone’s answer varies, but I say as much as you can handle without losing your mind. Fuck poor posture. I hate the fact that I can count the steps up to my room in the dark from having taken them so many times, because it means I don’t have to do any looking any more. Part of me would rather grope blindly—at least then I would be learning something. I would sleep somewhere different each night, if I could. I say shake things up as much as possible.

We worry about the stress of homelessness, or instability, inherent in the introduction (and continued pursuit) of variety, but the uncertainty is worth it. These are my thoughts on change in general: though odd, though scary, even though potentially disastrous, out there in the unknown lies the possibility of perfection. What is perfect, anyway? What is better, even? One thing’s for sure—“better” is something that you don’t have right now, and “perfect,” should it exist at all, does not exist in your current reality. “Perfect” is not the way you turn the ignition in your car. It’s out there, somewhere, beyond your present understanding. Get going.

This entry was posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative, Self-Improvement and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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