Almost Robotic

Written by Alfonso Bello

Illustrated by Savio Aquino

Every morning I wake up and sit up for a minute to condition my body to sit or stand. I then drink a glass of water and wash up. I leave my bedroom to then clean my cat’s litter, give him food and water. If I’m in a rush, I would probably just grab a piece of bread or fruit to eat then take a quick shower and leave. If I have plenty of time, I’ll check and schedule my emails before 8 AM then cook up breakfast for myself and my family. Maybe I’ll study a little depending on my mood but I will definitely take the time to relax—I might read a book or watch a video or two. This has become my morning routine, a habit of mine.

While it seems almost robotic, my mornings are always structured in this way, the rest of the day is unfortunately unpredictable. This is why it gives me relief to say that I start the day off with some relaxation. I don’t need to think about it, I just do it and it works and it’s the same for most people. This is part of the reason why habits have become so central to us, but it can go both ways. Let me explain.

Letting go

Like my morning routine, we do habits out of practice; as animals, we get used to it. After all, our habits are an interplay from our behaviors which itself is based on our genes and the environment that we live in. So, how are habits formed?

  Habits are formed through repetition of tasks. Like other animals, humans condition themselves to do things out of social or contextual cues. Something as small as a thing out of place for an orderly person, may put them off because they’ve conditioned or have been conditioned to see things in order. We do this and so much more without question because we have done it too many times to count, you no longer have to process it as you would your first or second time, you just do it.

This formation of habits has allowed us something amazing: a conservation of energy or a relaxation of sorts, especially when we’re in intense situations.1 I mean, just imagine having to think about every menial task you do. You’d have to put in effort and focus to fold every crevice of your laundry and clean every speck of food on the dishes—it’s tiring! Though, through habits, you don’t have to think about that.

In this way, habits eliminate common tasks, you won’t even feel like you’re doing them! In turn, they make way to clear up your thoughts to make better decisions. However, there are some caveats to this.

Habits may also prove to be harmful. If you’ve conditioned yourself to do something because you think it’s good and you’ve thought so your entire life but you end up being wrong, what then should you do? 

Controlling your core

Before we get into answering that question, it’s important to understand that not all harmful habits can instantly be classified as an addiction. Habits imply regular and conditioned actions or behaviors that get harder to break or more subtle the longer it remains. On the other hand, addiction simply makes that habit the center of your world—that thing, whatever it is, takes control of your life. This is to say that not all habits are addictions but all addictions are habits, intense habits at that.2

In neurobiology, both literally and figuratively will shape how your brain is and how you think and approach life. Studies have found that habits will physically affect you and, more often than not, you won’t even notice!1 Of course, whether the effects are positive or negative are entirely dependent on the habit you develop.

As I have reiterated, habits are good and bad for the right reasons. We have a tendency to try and keep the good ones but at times, you won’t really be able to distinguish it when it starts affecting other people. When it does affect others, we label it as bad and most people would be quick to try and control themselves but constantly relapse and give up but the interplay of science and philosophy helps with this. 

Philosophy may compel you

I always carry with me a quote by the famed Aristotle, “You are what you repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act, but a habit,” and another by the stoic Epictetus, “First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” You might ask, what do these mean? It means that choice and understanding is central.

If you mean to do things in perpetuity to what is good but there are bad habits in the way, then you must make an effort to fight it. While yes, these habits might be ingrained within your brain, there are ways to restructure it, you just have to believe that you can.

As old as Aristotle is, what he said makes sense today. Studies have shown that habit formation is fluid. It takes time to build them up so it only makes sense that it takes time to change or break them entirely, however long that time may take. People self-report that they have the tendency to change courses once they feel less accomplished by those habits.1 Of course, no one trick is ever effective for every person in habit formation or replacement. However, personally, I do believe there is one way to go about it, at least to start.

In the same vein as what Epictetus mentioned, I believe that the first step in habit formation is having that self-realization that you have complete control over yourself and your actions. As contrary as it might seem, you must actively engage and think about your habits so that, eventually, you’ll arrive at what you want.

What do you accomplish by doing this? Self-consciousness. In the previous study mentioned, they found a trend that once participants were aware of their natural inclinations towards what might be bad and harmful to others and themselves, they found it easier to change albeit with some mental weight.1 After all, nobody said it was going to be easy.

You can do it

Understanding our habits and, in general, our biology helps us understand ourselves more on levels we thought we knew but didn’t. At the same time, we must be conscious about the harmful habits we have come to develop. There is no shame in admitting your guilty everyday doings and the things you’ve grown accustomed to but we should learn a thing or two about balance. 

There is this misconception that habits are uncontrollable but this is entirely false, even for addictions. We must de-stigmatize this belief because you are able to control them and you can change them, it will just take a lot of will and literal brain power.

It is entirely agreeable that habits make up part of our lives but not the entirety of it. We must be careful not to tread into such territory because although we might almost be robotic when it comes to the little habits and quirks we have, letting it control your life will make you entirely robotic—an alienation from what we actually want and what we actually are.


[1] Wood W & Runger D. Psychology of Habit. Annual Review of Psychology. 2016; 67:289-314.

[2] Alvernia University. Habit vs. Addiction: What’s the Difference? [updated 2019, Sept 26; accessed 2023 February 20]. 


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