Essays on Science and SocietyNeurobiology

The effortless custody of automatism

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Science  12 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6411, pp. 169
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav1250


We rely on habits to get us through life. Grab your keys, back your car out of the driveway, navigate to work—each of these daily actions is made more fluid, and less error prone, with repetition and habit. As the father of modern psychology, William James (1), put it:

The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.