Why don’t we try harder to change our habits?

Fasten your seatbelt sign
Have you ever tried to break or change a habit? Whether it’s quitting smoking, doing more exercise, eating more healthily, writing every day, it’s hard, isn’t it?

I’ve been thinking a lot about behaviour change recently. That’s fundamentally what habits are – they’re ways we behave, and the best (or sometimes worst) habits are ingrained in our daily routines.

Take brushing your teeth. The vast majority of people automatically clean their teeth twice a day – once in the morning and once before they go to bed. OK, you might miss the odd one, but it’s simple to get back on track. Why is that? Well, it’s partly because we’ve grown up doing it – it’s a natural habit. And as we get older and learn a bit more about the world, we understand that cleaning our teeth is an important part of staying healthy (and hopefully avoiding enormous dentist bills!)

Charles Duhigg’s excellent The Power Of Habit is definitely worth a read

Changing your behaviour is slightly different, but not necessarily any easier or more difficult. With my work hat on, I think a lot about how to encourage people to adopt healthier habits that will reduce their risk of cancer. 2 in 5 cases are preventable through a combination of not smoking, eating healthily and not being overweight, moving more, cutting back on alcohol and avoiding the sun unprotected.

Few people would disagree with that sort of list, but those measures rely on you being disciplined and having willpower. Other external forces might be stronger and more prevalent, making your good intentions very hard to keep to. The ideal is that, even if you fall off the proverbial wagon, you can easily get back on (like the teeth brushing example above). Continue reading “Why don’t we try harder to change our habits?”

The joy of using a language ‘in the wild’

Panorama of Munich from the top of St Peter's Church
Munich’s Frauenkirche and Rathaus

Shamefully, I recently visited Munich for the first time. I use the adverb advisedly because I spent six months living in Bavaria, as part of my language degree back in the 90s. Yet, unaccountably, I failed to spend any time in Germany’s third-largest city (aside from using the airport at the start and end of my stay).

Quite aside from being an enriching travel experience – the first overseas trip I’d taken since before the pandemic – it reminded me of how important it is to refresh my language skills in the flesh.

I’ve talked before about my love of language, particularly foreign ones, and German remains one of my favourites. I started learning it 40 years ago and it still enchants me – its logic (both in terms of word construction and syntax), alongside an often-overlooked lyrical quality, make it a delight to learn and speak. Continue reading “The joy of using a language ‘in the wild’”

Why are you so scared of AI?

The word 'intelligence' chiselled into a boulder
CC image via flickr: David Bruce

You could be forgiven for thinking we currently live in an Issac Asimov-inspired world, given the recent headlines about how artificial intelligence (AI) is going to take over your job.

And, it’s true that some jobs will be replaced by new technology – but that’s nothing new. For centuries, something else has arrived and upset the existing order.

I’m not even talking about the past 50 years – do you think the invention of the spinning jenny in the 18th century was greeted warmly by those who were manually employed to spin cotton?

I work in an industry where, theoretically, I should be worried this time. The arrival of ChatGPT seems to spell the death knell for people who play with words for a living. After all, enter the prompt: “write a 500-word blog post about the threat of artificial intelligence to those working in the creative industries” and it spits out a coherent, fairly well-written piece. Continue reading “Why are you so scared of AI?”