Creatures of Habit


Do We Really Choose How We Live Our Lives?

November/December 2013


With my right foot planted firmly on the floor and my left heel just barely off the ground, my body leans slightly to the right when I pee.

Newly awakened to this startling discovery, I notice that whatever remaining weight the left foot still supports has been transferred to the toes there. (The function of those toes seems to be less about bearing weight than it is about maintaining my equilibrium.)

My pants. I put them on . . . well, let’s see, how do I put them on? That’s right, invariably, left leg first. Shirts? Invariably, right sleeve first. Teeth? Invariably upper-left outside first, then moving across the upper-front to the upper-right side, then . . . well, take my word for it, without my walking you through the whole thing, there’s a fixed and, yes, invariable pattern whenever a toothpaste-bearing brush enters my mouth.

These habits I have—why “invariable”? Why the left leg and not the right? Why the upper-left outer (or as my dentist calls it, “buccal”) side and not the lower-right “lingual”? Was I taught somewhere along the line to behave this way? Is being a righty at the core of it all? Does the fact my left leg was injured years ago affect any of this? Does laziness play a part? Am I yearning for security through familiarity, a shield against the unknown? Or is there just no answer to why?

While the specific steps I follow in how I piss or dress or brush appear to be as thought-free—as mindless—as the…

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