Habit Forming and Breaking

Among the inevitabilities of the Internet is the occasional media story about financial hardships hitting people whoa re just like you and me.  These could be student loan debt, medical-related bankruptcies, massive issues with credit cards, subprime mortgages, or a number of other money problems.  Accompanying them will also be self-righteous comments that are not constructive in the least except to perhaps pump the egos of dessicated white men who spend their retirements in front of their computers searching for validation.

Anyway, many of these comments have some variety of the phrase “You should have …”, implying that those profiled are obviously completely at fault for everything that has gone afoul.  Again not exactly constructive except to hold up said commenter’s own, oft-prejudicial worldview.  This means that they don’t consider the context of these true stories, whether they be geographical, racial, or socioeconomic (or don’t believe such context exists).  Nor do they consider human nature; rather, they never consider how those who are drowning financially probably do own their responsibility for their circumstances and readily bear those burdens, but are also trapped by their circumstances and habits.

In Psychology Today, Robert Taibbi explains that habits are related to routine because of the way that they form based on repetitive behavior.  Moreover, we associate certain pleasure responses from them because they are triggered by certain needs or stressors.  He also points out that good habits are such because they keep us from having to think through everything and decide on what to do with every little decision in life.  Similarly, Kate Levinson points out that bad money habits are often expressions of deeper-seated issues, and in order to really confront and solve the habit, you need to really dig deep into its roots and connect to the present day before you even consider the change you want to make.  She offers several steps in the process and even acknowledges that you often have to repeat the process maybe several times before it sticks.  On some leve, this is admitting a problem; on another, it seems like it’s facing your demons.

So, why did I buy all of this stuff that I am looking to get rid of?  And why are there so many people like me who accumulate things or spend money unwisely so they can clearly live beyond their means?

I will try not to generalize in an answer and will keep it pretty much to myself.  I have thought about what triggers these habits.  Buying and accumulating things stems from expectations and a need for acceptance.  I know that deep down, nobody among my fellow comics nerds friends cares whether or not I own two comics or 200, but that fact is irrelevant when you have been so conditioned to think that you don’t have enough or aren’t doing enough.

It’s a silly thing to be driven by, but when you grow up around those who judge one another and get competitive about their collections and posessions, you operate by that mindset long after it has expired.  I still struggle sometimes with being the one in the group who isn’t the top achiever, and I’ll even admit that even though I am trying to shift my mindset, I still get jealous and even bitter.  But I am finally understanding how a number of my friends are divesting themselves of years’ worth of comics collected.  I knwo that they have an immediate goal of getting a lot of this stuff out of the house and maybe even making some money on the side, but also wonder what their long-term goals are (or if they’ve got a plan to avoid backsliding).

But I could never look around at the all of the crap they’ve got and a situation they’ve gotten themselves into and be all, “Well, you should have …”


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