Ch1 L6: Habits (Part 2 – The Achilles’ heel)

  1. Through the last post, we referred to the study of some rats’ brain [1] to discuss that habitual or automated behaviors help us both react to problems or dangers faster and save more energy which is aligned with the fundamental principle of Minergie [2].

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  1. We should know that habits can be formed and practiced totally independent of memory. Eugene Pauly (E.P.) who had lost his memory, caused by viral encephalitis, became able to correctly find 16 cards in order through the practice which created the habit. So, instead of recalling their sequence, he habitually found the cards. [3]
  2. Each habit consists of three stages: a cue [4] followed by a routine which leads to an expected reward [5]. In the rats’ case, the click was the cue, telling them that they need to perform the routine to get the chocolate which brings happiness, joy or satisfaction.
  3. What we call happiness is simply the relative reduction or absence of fear. The happy hormones [6] inhibit the fear hormones [7,8]. That’s also why Leo Tolstoy [9] in “Anna Karenina” [10] said that “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” [11]
  4. So, a habit is reinforced by at least a reward or even its prospect; then it can be executed rather effortlessly or painlessly [12]. analogically, a habit is like concrete which gradually hardens, therefore its rigidity will increase which can be dangerous sometimes. We know that survival requires flexibility, therefore, to change strategies and reactions since problems and situations change. So we need to be careful, not to let our habits become rigid which in many areas can be called addiction [13], then we will see it as a tragedy if we empathize; otherwise, comedy.
  5. Henri Bergson [14], a French philosopher, in “Laughter: An Essay on The Meaning of the Comic” [15] has brilliantly analyzed why we laugh at a comic. In a nutshell, the bare bones of his argument are the last sentence of the next paragraph: “This rigidity is the comic, and laughter is its corrective.” However, I couldn’t help but share his entire eloquent argument as the finale of this lesson.
  6. “What life and society require of each of us is a constantly alert attention that discerns the outlines of the present situation, together with a certain elasticity of mind and body to enable us to adapt ourselves in consequence. Tension and elasticity are two forces, mutually complementary, which life brings into play. If these two forces are lacking in the body to any considerable extent, we have sickness and infirmity and accidents of every kind. If they are lacking in the mind, we find every degree of mental deficiency, every variety of insanity. Finally, if they are lacking in the character, we have cases of the gravest inadaptability to social life, which are the source of misery and at times the causes of crime. Once these elements of inferiority that affect the serious side of existence are removed, and they tend to eliminate themselves in what has been called the struggle for life, the person can live, and that in common with other persons. But society asks for something more; it is not satisfied with simply living, it insists on living well. What it now has to dread is that each one of us, content with paying attention to what affects the essentials of life, will, so far as the rest is concerned, give way to the easy automatism of acquired habits. Another thing it must fear is that the members of whom it is made up, instead of aiming after an increasingly delicate adjustment of wills which will fit more and more perfectly into one another, will confine themselves to respecting simply the fundamental conditions of this adjustment: a cut-and-dried agreement among the persons will not satisfy it, it insists on a constant striving after reciprocal adaptation. Society will therefore be suspicious of all inelasticity of character, of mind and even of body, because it is the possible sign of a slumbering activity as well as of an activity with separatist tendencies, that inclines to swerve from the common centre round which society gravitates: in short, because it is the sign of an eccentricity. And yet, society cannot intervene at this stage by material repression, since it is not affected in a material fashion. It is confronted with something that makes it uneasy, but only as a symptom, scarcely a threat, at the very most a gesture. A gesture, therefore, will be its reply. Laughter must be something of this kind, a sort of social gesture. By the fear which it inspires, it restrains eccentricity, keeps constantly awake and in mutual contact certain activities of a secondary order which might retire into their shell and go to sleep, and, in short, softens down whatever the surface of the social body main retain of mechanical inelasticity. Laughter, then, does not belong to the province of aesthetics alone, since unconsciously (and even immorally in many particular instances) it pursues a utilitarian aim of general improvement. And yet there is something aesthetic about it, since the comic comes into being just when society and the individual, freed from the worry of self-preservation, begin to regard themselves as works of art. In a word, if a circle be drawn round those actions and dispositions, implied in individual or social life, to which their natural consequences bring their own penalties, there remains outside this sphere of emotion and struggle, and within a neutral zone in which man simply exposes himself to man’s curiosity, a certain rigidity of body, mind and character, that society would still like to get rid of in order to obtain from its members the greatest possible degree of elasticity and sociability. This rigidity is the comic, and laughter is its corrective.”


Exercise 6:

  1. Why do kids seem to be happier?
  2. Think about the effect of alcohol or narcos and how they make you feel happier or do whatever you want.
  3. Why is addiction considered a threat?
  4. What are the effects of intense lights and loud music in clubs or discos?
  5. Using the idea of relative reduction of fear, explain how riding a roller-coaster or generally scary experiences can make you feel thrilled. What does adrenaline junkie mean?


[1] Link to Ch1 L5. Ref. to P 56-58.

[2] Link to Ch1 L1. Ref. to P 10.

[3] Link to “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg

[4] Sometimes more than one cue can trigger the same routine. For example smoking due to sadness, excitement or any other reasons.

[5] Again Ref. to “The Power of Habit“.

[6] For more information about the happy hormones, you can refer to the link.

[7] Emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman.

[8] That’s why in the first post [Link] I said that the underlying drive to raise expectation is fear because happiness depends on fear (its absence). Experiencing pain also creates fear, because pains tell us that we’re in danger, so we need to react to them by activating fear. Imagine that you heard an alarm which had gone off, then according to the level of anger, you’d want to turn it off or smash it. That’s why happiness is not an original drive, but it shouldn’t make us feel that this is a sad world. Our definitions can shape our feelings; if we don’t run away from Death and fear, accept the world as it is, don’t take life for granted and assume that every day could be our last day, then we’ll have more meaningful and joyful lives.

[9] Link

[10] Link

[11] We need to practically define relative happiness: if we set a normal state for fear that we daily experience, or if in some areas our lives are moving forward rather smoothly, then we’ll feel relatively happy. We’re gonna discuss happiness through the post about awareness.

[12] while working out, our body releases endorphins which are our biological painkillers; enabling us to strive harder. Imagine that we’d become extinct long time ago if our hunter-gatherer ancestors couldn’t chase a prey.

[13] As you know, unfortunately, our brain can develop positive or negative habits, disregarding their consequence, of which smoking and drinking are the most recognized ones. The key, as Duhigg said in “The Power of Habit”, is to change the routine and maybe reward for the same cue.

[14] Link

[15] On a personal note, this is one of the few papers/books which I said wow after reading. Link


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