How to Use the Power of Habituation to Your Advantage

September 28, 2017

Categories: Habits

Human beings have an uncanny ability to habituate to their surroundings. I’ll give you an example from my own life. When I first moved into my apartment in Dallas, I would get really annoyed at airplanes that would fly overhead. I live pretty close to Love Field, and the path of the airplanes would fly close to my building. It was loud, and at first the sound of the planes would wake me up in the morning.

But after a week or two, I habituated. At one point, a visitor made a comment about the loudness of an airplane passing by overhead, and I realized that I hadn’t heard or thought about an airplane for weeks. The sound of the airplane blended into the background, and I didn’t notice it anymore.

Maybe you have had a similar experience. When entering into a new environment, something caught your attention and really bothered you. But over time, the irritant blended in to the background, and you didn’t really notice it anymore.

Our tendency toward habituation can impact us in positive and negative ways. On the positive side, if something bothers you at first, there’s a good chance you will habituate to it, and it will become less irritating over time. This is good news if you just bought a house close to a train, or find yourself noticing a flaw in your new car, house, or dating partner. There’s a good chance that the thing that seems like a big deal now, won’t seem as bad in a few weeks or months.

On the other hand, our ability to habituate can sometimes work against us. One example of this is if we are trying to build muscle in the weight room. When put under stress, your body quickly tries to return to a state of homeostasis. In other words, your body tries to habituate and get back in balance quickly. If you do the same workout for a few weeks, you will soon get to a point where you see little improvement. This is the idea of the plateau that so many athletes experience. In order to keep improving, you have to mix it up. This is part of the reasons that many workout programs, such as P90x and CrossFit actually make variety and muscle confusion a key part of their training regimen.

We are creatures of habit. We tend to quickly habituate to novel situations—it’s just part of who we are. In life, try to harness your power to habituate for your good, but switch things up when habituation is working against you.


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