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Published: January, 2013; Vol 9, Num 8

 

Who Cares about Your Habits?

Ultimately, you are responsible for making all decisions about what you do. You create your habits, and only you can change them. Yet, you don’t mold or modify your habits in a vacuum. Other forces exert influence. Part of managing your life is understanding who cares about your habits…

Family

Your first habits were set in childhood, and many last your entire lifetime. The norms of your family and the examples set by your parents established the founding routines of your life. Maybe, your mother banned candy; maybe, she served dessert at every meal, nurturing a sweet habit. You were probably trained to wear your seat belt. You also developed some childhood habits (chewing your nails?) on your own.

Peers

"Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits."

                                  – Mark Twain

When you began leaving home for daycare or school, you began regular relationships with peers, teachers and other outside-the-family adults. Around the time you reached middle school, the influence of your peers may have surpassed your family in regard to school work, interest in sports, recreational activities, favorite TV shows, choice of clothes and the kind of food you ate in the school cafeteria. In high school, peer influence may have directed you toward cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. Throughout life, the opinions and judgments of your peers matter to you and help shape your habits.

Advertising

Businesses also influence your habits, especially through advertising. Advertising can be considered in two ways. It is information sharing about opportunities to purchase, but it is also a tease for your pocketbook and an effort to mold your tastes and priorities. Generally, it begins in childhood and is relentless. Typically, it is conducted through the most influential cultural nooks of your life: your television shows and your social networks. Frequently, it is bolstered by endorsements of famous people. Almost always, it is financed by corporations with ample budgets to spend.

Pop Culture

Music, movies, television and the social media help shape your habits. For example, in the 1950s, esteemed television broadcaster Edward R. Murrow smoked while he reported the news. Later, smoking all but disappeared from TV and the movies, but it has made a return in recent years. Today, if you're on Facebook (FB), you know FB thoroughly tracks your habits, both to help you network effectively and to place ads that will attract your attention.

Government

While the ideal of complete personal freedom with a hands-off government has appeal, our interdependent society spurs awareness that "no man (or woman) is an island" without accountability to others. Government at all levels is enacting new standards for personal behavior. Smoking bans are routine. New York City barred supersized soda. Higher taxes on tobacco have a predictable effect on overall consumption, and "sin taxes" are commonplace. Studies show that many of these regulations result in improved community health outcomes: seat belt laws save lives (similar verdict on helmet Laws); smoking bans reduce the rates of heart attacks.

Employers

Employers also care about your habits, encouraging good ones like punctuality, honesty and safety awareness while discouraging bad ones that contribute to poor work quality, sickness or accidents at work. Yet, it's one thing to expect you to be at the job on time and to use PPE, but what about your personal choices? Maybe you're overweight, maybe you smoke. With insurance premiums rising, many employers have institutionalized wellness programs that encourage better employee health. Trending the other way, some companies now only hire non-smokers, and a few have ordered employees to quit smoking or quit working. Some are investigating whether similar rules can be applied to overweight employees: lose weight or lose your job!

[Steve Clark]