2 min read

Habit propagation

I'm using a Mac for the first time (it's a new work computer) so I'm spending a lot of time hitting the wrong keyboard shortcuts and getting frustrated. On the other hand, it's an interesting exercise in watching habits reform. I keep going through the following process:

  • using the wrong shortcut on the Mac
  • using the wrong shortcut on the Mac, but having some awareness of 'oh no I'm using the wrong shortcut' as I do it
  • the awareness propagating ahead of hitting the key, so I get the right shortcut
  • using the right shortcut on the Mac, without thinking about it. Woohoo, unconscious competence! Except...
  • now I'm also using that shortcut on Windows, and it's the wrong shortcut :(
  • then I have to go through the same awareness propagation loop on Windows
  • finally I'm hitting the right keys on both

It's not exactly this clean, and it's muddled because I'm learning multiple shortcuts at once, but it goes something like that. Anyway the main reason I wrote this down is because it prompted me to look up a relevant story from Phil Agre's Computation and Human Experience, and I wanted to copy it down for future reference:

This story covers four days one winter. One morning upon arriving at my office, I decided I was tired of my coat cluttering my office, so I decided to leave the coat lying on top of the file cabinet just outside my office door. Shifting my concern to the day's work, I walked into my office and pushed the door shut behind me as always - except that today it didn't slam behind me as usual. Investigating, I found that an edge of the coat had caught in the door jamb, preventing the door from closing. I moved the coat out of the way, closed the door, and went back to work. The next day I left the coat on top of the file cabinet, headed into my office, and pushed the door shut as always - and it didn't slam behind me again. This time, though, I immediately knew what the problem was. The next day I left the coat on top of the file cabinet as before, but as soon as I turned to head into my office I realized that the coat was liable to get caught, so I moved the coat out of the way again. The fourth day, I was aware of the problem as I was placing the coat down on the file cabinet, so I made a point of placing it as far as practicable from the door jamb. On each day, a bit of the previous day's insight had drifted back toward the beginning of the routine.

This story doesn't have the habit interference bit, but it does have the awareness propagation.