October 15, 2019

The Dangers of Conditioning

• By John F. Chisholm •

I snapped a drill bit working in the garage. It’s happened before. No doubt it’ll happen again. Absolutely, I’ll have to buy a replacement bit if I want to keep my drill index complete.

But none of those realities are the issue. The broken piece of hardened steel pierced my left thumbnail, tearing away portions of flesh on the ball on its way through. Ouch. Yeah, it hurt.

In fact, it still hurts. Clearly I had way too much pressure on that bit.

But that’s not the point either.

My keyboarding skills are suffering this morning. Okay. I use my left thumb strictly for the space bar ― happily, I use my right thumb for that duty, too. The problem arises that I can’t retrain myself to use strictly my right thumb. No. I’ll get typing away, intent on content, nail that spacer bar with my left thumb and launch myself into orbit on a periodic basis. Whenever my right hand is busily engaged with j,k,l,semicolon and the rest of that crowd, my left thumb springs into action. That’s true even while I’m typing this, a story about my injury. Wow. Habit, or should I say conditioning, certainly is a powerful compulsion.

I can’t be the only one who suffers from this sort of affliction. Thinking about it, I’m sure that even Pavlov experienced it. Perhaps every evening when his cellphone rang in the bar, he’d knock himself on the temple. “Damn! I forgot to feed the dog.”

We’re all caught in the rut of our usual and customary activities. You never realize how ingrained those have become until an accident pierces your habits, forcing you to make adjustments ― if you can.

My problem is that I can’t. At least not in the time frame required to save my thumb from beating itself into ragged nerve endings against the space bar. That injury will be healed long before I could persuade myself to abandon its use.

The real issue goes beyond that. How many other conditions of which in-grained habit has made me blissfully unaware are presently running my life?

Until I injure myself into discovery, I fear that I’ll never know.

It occurs to me that habit ― and the resulting conditioning ― can be a very dangerous thing.