The Habits That Influence Us

Five o’ clock in the morning and the alarm clock sounds. Snooze. Five minutes later, second alarm sounds. Snooze. Finally, with the third alarm, I hop out of bed and prepare for the most exciting part of the day; work. As I shower, put on my clothes, and drive to work, all that I can think about is sleep. How sleepy I feel before work, how sleepy I’ll feel at work, and how sleepy I’ll feel after work. I think about this so much so that I contemplate turning my car around and heading back home. Hmm…..”Turning”. Why does this feel and sound all too familiar?

Well as I get to work and clock in, I’m greeted by other coworkers who are just as enthusiastic to be here as I am. I find out which route I’m designated to drive and head out to the yard for pre-trip inspection and that is when it hits me. TURNING! Turning around in circles is what the early part of my day will be filled with. Endless turns in the same direction, at the same light, and on the same street. What did I get myself into? As I head closer to the vehicle that I will be spending the next eight hours in, it hits me harder that I will be seeing the same things on a cycle every few minutes.

As I step onto my bus and sit on the seat, I once again contemplate leaving and going back home. I suck it up and turn the ignition on and head out to my initial position on route and begin my day. Driving in circles is what I will be doing for the next few hours. As I make my way towards my first stop and passenger, I am greeted by a smile and wave. This brightens up the mood and I sit and pause for a bit and ask myself, “Why am I in such a bad mood?” Then I close the doors, start driving, and realize why. Don’t get me wrong, I’m content with working here, it is just the driving around in circles that gets to me sometimes.

As I head towards my first obstacle in the road (a giant pot hole that is hard to avoid with a huge bus) I can’t help but be reminded that I will be seeing this same exact pothole, doing this same exact maneuver, and doing this same exact grimacing face over fifty times during the day. I frown and keep driving. As I head back on to campus, I decide to turn the music up a little louder so that I can enjoy some music only to remember why I had it off in the first place. It reminds me so much of driving in a circle because the music that I hear is played in a cycle. I would hear the same songs played over a period of fifteen minute intervals and coincidentally, at the same parts of campus.

As the day comes to a close and I have completed my fiftieth round. I shout for bitter joy. Joy that I get to relax and study for the rest of the day. Bitterness because I will be up again in the morning preparing myself for a fun-filled day of driving in circles!

What all of this entails is a description of a daily routine of mine that has been etched into my personal being. We all have that routine in our lives that we do on a daily basis. Whether it is waking up and going to work or school or smaller routines that we do every day, these small activities have become a part of what or who we are. They have become habits.

Have you ever taken time out to just sit down and think about the things that you routinely do on a daily basis? Little routine things like using a car turn signal or putting on your seatbelt? Want to know why you no longer have to focus on these tasks? Well, consider this. Think about how you drive a car now compared to how you first drove one when you were a beginner. Do you still have to think about turning on your turn signals whenever you switch lanes or do you, naturally and by second-nature, move your hand over and flick the turn signal lever? Whenever you see a red, yellow, or green light at a traffic stop, do you still have to process which color means which or do you automatically know what to do when the lights change? These learned patterns of driving that you exhibit have been reinforced and repeated many times since you first started driving. Every time you drove your car, you more than likely made use of a turn signal. This action of flipping the switch at a constant rate over a period of time caused it to become a routine. Eventually this routine formed into a habit that you carry with you to this day

In Charles Duhigg’s, “The Power of Habit”, he states that “Habits as they are technically defined: the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day.” In other words, habits are the things that we do on a consistent basis without having to think much about it. Think about a professional basketball player. They have shot a basketball thousands of times in their lifetime to the point where their mechanics and shooting form have been etched into their memory and muscles. Professionals shoot the basketball without much thought in the aspect of trying to figure out elbow and hand positioning. What they do instead, is shoot. They have developed a habit of shooting the basketball with amazing technique that for them, basketball has become second nature.

When compared to an amateur who has not practiced the routine of shooting the basketball at a consistent basis, we can quickly identify, through comparison, that this person has not developed shooting a basketball into a habit. Habits are not something that occurs spontaneously but is something that occurs over time and with repetitive practice. Not only does habit require repetitive practice, it also requires social cues, an action, and a reward. One example that I can give is this: As children, some of us were told to say “God bless you” or “gesundheit” whenever someone sneezed.

This response to a sneeze was explained to us as a way that we could wish someone good health who may be catching a cold. As we became older over time, we experienced opportunities where we practiced saying “God bless you” or “gesundheit” whenever someone sneezed. It soon became an automatic response for some that whenever we heard a sneeze, someone automatically wished them good health without even having to think about it. In this example, the cue for the habit was the sneeze, the action was the response, and the reward that caused us to continue to do this was the sense of gratitude we felt after wishing someone good health. Many of us have formed habits in other areas of our life. Whether it’s the way we eat, talk, walk, brush our teeth, or even sleep, these habits have become who we are and make up the uniqueness of each individual on earth.

The habits that we develop when we are young, however, can have a profound effect on us as we grow older. Good nutritional and exercising habits at a younger age can greatly help reduce the risks of developing certain diseases as we get older. Daily or even weekly exercising develops into a routine that becomes a part of our way of life that transcends well into adulthood. Although a large part of the aging process is due to genetics, habits can play an important role in our condition as older adults. One particular influence that habits, in combination with genetics, can have on our life is in the area of vision. Having a smoking habit greatly increases the risks of damaging vision which I will look into in the area of age-related macular degeneration.

Aging is an unavoidable process of human development that brings about many changes throughout life. Some of these changes are physical, such as, wrinkles and grey hair while others are mental changes like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The physical as well as the mental changes that occur in the body as we age are the result of our cell functions beginning to decline in their abilities over time. As we age, the body becomes more susceptible to diseases and more vulnerable to injuries. In terms of mental decline, it becomes harder for individuals to process information at the same rate and speed as they were once capable of. Reaction times become much slower and simple tasks such as driving a car become much more difficult. This in addition to having poor vision makes driving as well as other activities very difficult for older individuals. One particular cause of this vision loss is Age-related macular degeneration.

Age-related macular degeneration is a slow and painless loss of vision over a period of time. It is caused by multiple factors that include habitually smoking, but none more evident than aging. The simple loss of tissue around the macula as we age well into our sixties is what increases the risk for developing macular degeneration. The tissue surrounding the macula causes a blockage and obscures the retinas and hinders eyesight. Another factor that can cause age-related macular degeneration is heredity. In a research done by Columbia University Medical Center, they found that a gene named complement factor B may have a part in the development of age-related macular degeneration. (Ferrone et. Al. 2013) This gene as well as other genes show the possibility that age-related macular degeneration can be passed down from a previous generation. Other risk factors for age-related macular degeneration include: smoking, drug side effects, long exposures to the sun, and high blood pressure. (Haddrill n.d.) Once macular degeneration begins to take place, it is very difficult to reverse its effects. With dry macular degeneration, taking antioxidants and multivitamins can help decrease the risk of the disease developing into wet macular degeneration. Once it has reached that stage, it becomes extremely difficult or close to impossible to reverse what has happened.

Age-related macular degeneration is an important topic and one that is really important to research. I have had family members who have gone through bouts with vision as they reached ages 60–65 which is usually around the time individuals start to notice the affects it has on the vision. I also have multiple members of my family who require glasses in order to see clearly which means that this or possibly another type of vision impairment might be handed down to me through heredity. Taking the appropriate steps towards preventing macular degeneration could be a possible solution to avoiding this disease. Eating healthy and avoiding other risk factors from now on could help maintain the strength of my eyes well into my old age. As mentioned before, foods that are rich in multivitamins and antioxidants could be a major factor in preventing the onset of age-related macular degeneration. Also, staying away from bad habits can also help to prevent the onset of age-related macular degeneration.

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