Human beings are incredible learning machines.

We are also creatures of Habit.

This is both a good and a bad thing.

Good because we can use this super-power to achieve nearly anything, often limited only by the boundaries of our own self-belief.

Consider the act of driving a car. When you first learn this task it seems extremely complicated – because it is, there is an awful lot to learn. However for millions of drivers around the world this complicated undertaking ends up being really rather simple, almost sub-conscious even as we use our habit-forming super-power to perform the necessary actions instinctively, on auto-pilot, changing gear, checking mirrors, taking in information all around us pertinent to our journey from road signs, potential risks and obstacles not to mention plotting the route we’re taking obeying the highway code and the laws of the road and perhaps doing other things at the same time such as listening to music or the radio or holding a conversation with passengers (or both).

Feel free to substitute the above example of driving a car with any task we repeat regularly – we often take for granted just how powerful habit forming is and I’ve already written lots about habits in several articles you can access via this one: Habits: How To Achieve Incredible Things.

We are Creatures of Habit

As humans with our habit-forming nature we also tend to take comfort from routines, familiarity and repetition.

Many around the world enjoy watching the same TV shows every week, sometimes even watching the same shows many times a week. People tend to like TV series where they know and become familiar with the characters. The one that astounds me in particular is a show called Gogglebox where people are watching people watching TV! At first glance, the show has nothing special about it, it has no famous actors or celebrities in it and is simply people like ‘us’ watching TV. People like the familiarity of seeing the same people tme and time again, even more familiarity because as they are ‘normal people’, ‘just like us’ they are even more familiar and endeering. After the success of the show, of course these people now ARE celebrities, with millions of fans and viewers.

We are creatures of habit. As such we also tend to make connections wherever we can, we seek comfort from biases such as confirmation bias where we look to confirm our own views and reassure ourselves that we are right, that we hold the right beliefs or that we are on the right track. This also breeds loyalty – to people, to publications, to organisations, to brands.

We Love Routines (and are Thus Predictable)

So we tend to slip into routines very easily.

This is not a terrible thing when the routine is useful to us.

… but it can be anything on a scale of a bit of a shame to dangerous to terrible depending upon what particular routine we are talking about.

Our habits can be good habits or bad habits. Our routines also.

Whether or not we have bad habits or bad routines that we have formed ourselves, or even just habits or routines which are not the best choices we could make – such tendencies, our love of familiar, repetitive, safe routines (fed by our habit forming nature) make us very predictable and also in general, dealt with as a mass population, quite easy to target, to influence and to persuade. This is because media companies know this about us – whether we are talking about TV as we have been so far, retail companies, tech giants who put devices in our hands, social media companies or news companies.

A Market Research Trick

Some years ago my older sister worked for a market research company. She appeared on a daytime TV show and her party trick was to guess a bunch of information about a handful of different people just from looking at their supermarket receipt. She gave information such as their age, sex, where they lived, their professions and even the car that each of them drove. Her conclusions were extremely accurate.

… and this was before the Big Data phenomenon and the deep learning algorithms of Google and the like.

We are less unpredictable than we might care to think.

Influences via Routine and Habit

We are of course influenced each and every day by lots and lots of things. By the things we constantly choose to give our attention and also by the things that we do not consciously choose to give our attention.

More so the former.

We are subject to biases due to our choice of where we get our daily news (newsflash: for those who read a daily newspaper, it is highly likely that the newspaper you read is not independent news at all but in fact has a political leaning one way or another and therefore its own biased agenda) and in addition we have our own biases which determine what we pick up from the information available and what we tend to miss.

We are bombarded with tonnes of information on a daily basis and the only way we can really cope with this is
by filtering some of it out (probably so our heads don’t explode).

We all have our own unique view of the world due to these filters and biases.

In addition, we have the super-power of habit-forming which helps us to short-cut a lot of the complexities that we face.

The Matrix

Have you seen the movie ‘The Matrix’?

OK, so I’m not trying to tell you that we are actually in some computer generated world where we have no control whatsoever over our own destiny and everything is drip-fed to us via a software programme whilst our real selves are feeding some giant AI master.

But I am telling you that we are actually in a largely programmed world where our susceptibility to bias, familiarity and habit are used to influence and control our reactions to increasingly targeted stimuli making us increasingly predictable and that as such we are feeding various large corporate masters. Yes we are.

Maybe not you individually but as a general population, yes, it happens.

So it wouldn’t be a bad thing to take a step back from your usual routine from time to time, especially when it’s to do with regular brands – TV channels, news outlets, social media companies, magazines, newspapers.

Just consider taking a step back and switching things up a bit.

Variety is the spice of life.


I was inspired to write this article by a very simple website.


All this website is doing is offering an alternative to the usual repetitive TV shows we automatically plug into on a regular basis.

It is inviting you to watch something new, to discover something new.

I like that.

Obviously I could have just introduced this website (it starts with the right letter for this week’s article), but I think that would be a shame as there is a wider point to consider.

There are a lot of TED talks on this website I noticed. I love TED talks. If you do nothing else, learn about and check out some TED talks.

Final Thought

There is nothing wrong with routine.

In fact I’m a big fan of it, you can probably already tell from what I’ve written in the past and here, I find our habit-forming powers incredible (and I haven’t even mentioned the growth mindset here which coupled with habit-forming makes us even more incredible – haha, now I have). I also find the way we cope with the world through our filters, the way our mind works, the way we form connections and make memories simply fascinating.

However we can slip into routine and also into bad habits. More usually we take comfort from the familiar and from regular routines which we form in our lives often without realising just how much time we devote to these routines and as a result we may miss out on alternatives.

I am as guilty as anyone of watching trashy TV from time to time. I mean, real garbage. It is often nice for a bit of escapism and even for some light entertainment. I know it is garbage, I complain at the TV but I watch it anyway – but I don’t do this often and I am conscious of the choice I am making to watch it.

So the point of this article is nothing more than to encourage you to question some of your own routines and perhaps some of the influences that go with them – because it broadens the mind.

Instead of watching a weekly TV show or mindlessly flicking through the channels and watching something you’re not even really that interested in, switch off the TV and have a game of cards, a conversation or play a board a game with loved ones (or if you have a routine of playing board games every week, perhaps switch on the TV instead, lol).

Try a different newspaper or get your news from a different source, going without a newspaper at all for a few weeks.

Change your dietary habits for a week or take a different route somewhere you go regularly.

Unplug from the Matrix and see what alternatives you have in front of you.


Unplugging — 5 Comments

    • OK, so you just need to remove Sex in the City… 😉

      P.S. Was pretty sure you’d be a TED fan, just wasn’t sure about all of you…

      EdX is also pretty good for education but (in case that’s what you were alluding to earlier) far more time consuming, often being actual lectures (more often an hour or so at a time) which is why I far prefer TED.

  1. Hi,

    I watch too much TV!

    I am trying to study various technical courses and TV robs me of time. I am trying very hard to limit my viewing, but it is very
    hard because we tend to watch specific shows as a family (The crown, Game of Thrones, sex in the city).
    I wonder if you can deduce anything from the fact we watch these shows?

    Last week I watch gogglebox, this included kids reaction to the conclusion of Toy Story 3, my family especially the
    youngest (15yr) found it very emotional, toy story did a great job manipulating our emotions.

    When I was young we had a children’s program called “Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead”. And this was when we had 3 channels (really 2.5, BBC 2 had trade test transmission
    most of the day).

    • lol – I used to watch Why Don’t You as well and reading your comment instantly had the theme tune playing in my head. Has to be one of the best TV theme tunes of all time.

      Quite ironic that we sat there watching it though…

      Difficult when there is family involved – at least then there is some kind of family bonding going on, even if you are all glued to the set. We also value time watching TV with our kids but they don’t actually want to watch much TV at all so because it is very limited (less than 1 show per day, probably more like 1 show every few days), it becomes more quality time and less like we are slaves to the box. Plus, the more we limit what we watch the more we enjoy what we do watch and the more selective we are about it.

      TED is the answer.

    • Given that your kids are super-clever, you could try what we did with TED once. There is a TED channel. The shows are anything from a few mins to about 15 mins long. Take turns one evening picking one TED show each to watch and you all have to watch them together. Because the topics range quite a lot and the shows are very short, it can be very interesting, everyone gets to learn something new (also about each other & each other’s tastes) and everyone gets to watch something that they themselves chose and are interested in.

      Just a thought – we did those a few times & enjoyed it, maybe we were lucky with the shows that came up but there is some really interesting stuff on there (e.g. on AI which I know you’re interested in).

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