Maraz Galih Vedh-Wan Aadat Katih Galih?

The disease will go by the doctor’s shop, but the habit will never go

By Ahtisab Ul Haq 

IN an estranged period of Covid induced lockdown, we got ample time to be alone, to think about the things we usually ignore in other work packed days. Some of us spent the time binge watching movies, web-series, playing games on our smartphones, and some on browsing social media endlessly, some gossiped about the conspiracy theories firstly about the origin of virus, then about ill effects of its vaccine. Some took time to perfect their art, craft, knowledge, skills etc. to build themselves in a healthy way.

Plainly speaking, I am from the former category. The period starting April 2020 to July 2021 felt quite depressing for most of us. Luckily for me, the only plus point from that period is that I got some insights about the habits I have. As I enquired about the status of my habits (whether habit is good or bad), I got to know that many philosophers from ancient Greece to modern day psychologists have already provided immense insights on ‘habit’.  The one question that baffled me is whether a great person is made great by his habits or whether he became great because he has some particular habits or whether my habits make me a common man or I being a common man has different habits than great people. I didn’t get a simple answer to this question but I got some key insights that are generally valuable to other people.

Habits as they are mostly automatic responses tend to save our times. Humans are, by our nature, creatures of habit. Approximately 45% of our reported activities in a given day are habitual, performed automatically without much thought. Our morning routine, if we first check our phones or go for a walk when we wake up in the morning, is a habit. The route, the type of vehicle you prefer when going to school or office is a habit.

For a common man, the term Habit is used interchangeably with automaticity. Like other automatic responses, habits are activated in memory in an autonomous fashion without requiring executive control. A variety of cues might trigger habit performance including aspects of physical environment, other people and preceding action in a sequence. Once habits form perception of the relevant context cues automatically activate the mental representation of the habitual response. Once habitual responses are activated, people can act on the response in mind without making a decision to do so. Habits strengthen through associative and reward-learning mechanisms that capture the slow, incremental nature of habit formation. With each repetition, small changes occur in the cognitive and neural mechanisms associated with procedural memory.

Habit disruption due to increase in technology usage in present circumstances: Prior to the pandemic the education was only complemented by digital platforms for school going children their primary education and nurturing was done in the physical setting of schools with face to face contacts with teachers and their peers. But as the whole education came to standstill, the education was compelled to be transferred to an online system. The induced effect of this transfer was the increase in the penetration of smartphones in a great number of households with a student. In fact, almost 80% of classes are being run through the usage of computer and mobile devices. These phones provide the student the much needed bridge to communicate with their teachers and peers in an effective and efficient way. With this positive side there is a big negative side of its compulsive usage. It has the potential to disrupt some of our valuable study habits which we nurtured from the very first day of school. The abrupt shift of technology and disruption of classical settings for providing education has raised some questions for all the stakeholders of education-teachers, students, parents etc.

The 3 key potential disruptions posed by compulsive/ habitual usage of mobile were by social media. Its unabated usage is innately a problem. They simply lure us by sending out notifications numerous times in a day, which works like a cue to click it and reinforce its use practically makes us habitual users after a certain time. The like button, dislike button, the comment button, the reply to comment button, the tag button, the stalker button all keep us hooked on and on, sometimes for good other times even we are unable to find why we are scrolling and scrolling again.

Similarly, mobile phone gaming is another one. A decade ago mobile phones were installed with simple games, the levels of which can be played within a few weeks. Once we completed all the levels it feels dull to replay it again and again. That spared us time to do other tasks physically like bathing in a nearby canal or cricket or something else. But today the gaming industry is power packed with all the resources and smart brains to keep people hooked to it. They provided instant updates to add a level/challenge, that makes it unending games and us infinite warriors who day in and day out keep us engaged. The personalized gaming characters and the audio visual stimuli and connection with our friends stalks us to leave the game and do something productive.

Yet another aspect is that of the video streaming and OTT Platforms. These platforms use flashy thumbnails to keep us stacked to the screen and make it work as a habit triggering cues. These cues dislodge our natural and other productive habit cues due to which we feel in an endless loop of going down and down to find the video which will satisfy our brain, wasting our precious time to use it on other productive things.

In the end, it can be said that these platforms are now reality and are very much part of our social fabric. They have the potential to transform our personal and social life. They had immense potential to provide education in an interesting way, if used judiciously. They are here to remain and it’s us who need to rethink our strategy and habits while interacting with these platforms. We have to limit its potential abuse and must cultivate the habit to keep ourselves engaged in productive work. We have to talk to our children about its benefits and about its ill effects. We need to actively engage with our children and let them use these devices only for a certain time period. We must not let them cultivate any bad habits that these mobile devices facilitate .

But as the Kashmiri proverb

Maraz galih Vedh-wan Adat Katih galih?

It is indeed difficult to rewire our hard acquired habits

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