Comfort behaviour

Posted on 12/02/2013

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What are your default settings?

You’re in a bar/ pub/ cafe when the two friends you’re with get up to order a drink. Stranded and alone at the table, what do you do?

Most people get out their phones. We (I?) can’t stand to be unoccupied, so we get out our cellular sidekick to entertain us. Sometimes I wonder if we’re just doing it to appear occupied during those interstitial moments in life: waiting in queues, travelling, down-time.

For me it’s become a natural reflex. I have to actively resist (out of principle), which only makes the temptation worse. I fight it not only because I refuse to accept that a person sitting alone is socially unacceptable, but also because I’m trying to avoid the need for constant artificial stimuli. We should all look around us more and unplug from .

It’s comfort behaviour: the itch you shouldn’t scratch, a default setting in your mind. So I decided to write a list of other comfort behaviours:

  • Walking into the kitchen and opening the fridge (I have no intention of cooking; I don’t need to eat. Why do I do it? To bask in the cold yellow glow?)
  • Scratching behind my right ear when I’m thinking
  • Excessive exclamation marks, ellipses or parentheses (brackets!) when I’m writing
  • Tagging, bookmarking, pinning anything interesting online
  • Taking digital photos (I rarely do anything with them)
  • Going shopping with headphones on to tune out of life
  • Stocking up on food each time I go shopping
  • Fighting sleep even when I’m tired because there’s something I’d rather be doing and ultimately going to bed exhausted at 4 am
  • Fanting to turn on the TV purely because I’m sat on the sofa facing it
  • Carrying something to read everywhere I go, even if I won’t have time

These are are all distractions, neuroses and the mental equivalent of a programming loop that I continually get stuck in.

The brain is an incredibly complicated organ, rewired and reprogrammed over centuries, but also during our lifespan. One of the clearest analogies we can use is that of a computer, and i’ve already spent most of this blog using computer language to bring this to life (“default” settings, programming loops, etc.). In reality, this is far too simplified – a computer does what it is programmed to do; our brains do their own thing.

Yet strangely, technology seems to bring out these comfort behaviours more than anything else. In the presence of a mobile phone, mp3 player or TV my mind wants to default and let these devices take control. Sometimes it’s as if I’d rather do anything other than engage with the realities of everyday life.

Technology can supplement our intelligence and help us overcome our mental weaknesses (e.g. when we’d normally put off looking at our bank balance for fear that we’re overdrawn, we can now receive automatic alerts.) At the same time it also threatens our intelligence by allowing our lazy behaviours to win out. There’s a reason this blog is called The AntiSofa – its about overcoming this mental laziness and throwing ourselves into the deep end. Whether or not we can swim.

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