A doctor’s advice: you are what your habits are

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A doctor’s advice: you are what your habits are

Thursday, 02 July 2020 | Dr BKS Sanjay

Twenty five hundred years ago it might have been said that man understood himself as well as any other part of his world but today he understands least. Physics and biology have come a long way, but there has been no comparable development of anything like science of human behaviour.

According to Buddhist philosophy, our life is shaped by our mind- we become what we think. To succeed, make everything your ally rather than enemy, be it another person or your own brain. We must change our thinking process and behaviour to bring change in anything. American psychologist BF Skinner was famous for seeing humans as no different than animals. Humans should be analysed as animals interacting with their environment.  As animals, humans are basically creatures of their environment. Humans change their action according to the consequences of their and others behaviour.

As far as health is concerned, personal and social responsibility can be taught only with behavioural changes. A clinical research conducted by us revealed that 90% of the road traffic accident occurred due to the driver’s negligence. The main causes of these accidents in India are overtaking, speeding, drunken driving and recently use of mobile phone while driving. I think that aggression on the road is a common scenario on the Indian roads and it seems that we Indians take pride in breaking the existing traffic rules while travelling on the roads. All these causes of accidents are due to behavioural problem of the drivers which should be dealt accordingly to prevent road accidents. Because of this aggressive behaviour and disobeying of the traffic rules, the nation is losing a lot in terms of human and economic resource.

Hospital acquired infection is another major problem in the hospital. Number of infection is directly proportionate to the number of visitors to the patient and to the hospital which can be brought down significantly in our country by making behavioural changes in society. In the current scenario of Covid-19 pandemic behavioural changes like frequent hand wash, use of mask and keeping social distance have proved very effective to prevent coronavirus infection. The practice of this behavioural change has given satisfactory results which are seen particularly in countries like Japan and Sweden.     

Doctors are most of the time working in conditions of many uncertainties because the human body is working on dynamic principles not like the other sectors. None of the professions has as much risk as the medical profession. Knowingly doctors are taking risks of getting infected with dreaded infections like TB, AIDS, Hepatitis and recent addition of Covid-19 from patients while performing their tasks. But taking that much risk and working in odd conditions and hours, they are at times rewarded by verbal and physical violence. Verbal aggression or violence against doctors is so common that none of the doctors can claim that he has not encountered aggressive behaviour or verbal abuse from the patient's side for no fault. A renowned psychologist noted that it was natural to try to solve the world’s problems by advances in technology or science. He asserted that real solutions would only emerge when people’s behaviour is changed.

What matters the most is better interaction among the humans. We don’t need many medical scientists and doctors but we need many social scientists and doctors who can change human thinking and their behaviour. Behaviour is the first thing which influences the results, irrespective of profession. Behaviour of an individual is very important to render the service. A genuine relationship or interaction is one in which you and the other person are comfortable with each other and feel safe to speak their mind and confident to be heard. Most of the problems can be sorted out with acceptable behaviour itself.

Behaviour is defined as an action that is observable and measurable. The observable actions are more descriptive. In psychology, behaviour consists of an organism’s external reaction to the environment. In simple words behaviour is the range of actions by an organism with their environment. Behaviour serves two purposes- either to get something or to avoid something. It can be learnt and can be changed at any age and any stage of life, however it is easier at childhood than later on. Human behaviour plays an important role in all phases of human life. The success of any person depends upon the application of a trio of behaviour, knowledge and skill. Behaviour component is nearly 80% of all three.

Habit is something that you do often and almost without thinking, especially something that is hard to stop doing. Habit forming is an endless cycle running every moment you are alive.

Highly successful people have learned to develop good habits which they follow daily. A person is a bundle and product of habits. You are what your habits are.

Every behavioural action is preceded by antecedent trigger followed by a reaction. The process is easily remembered by the acronym ABC. The reaction of any action becomes action and action reaction becomes a vicious circle. Habits formation is the process by which behaviour through regular repetition becomes automatic or habitual.

Habit formation has four components; first cue, second craving, third response and fourth reward.

Humans can make good habits and can break bad habits. Lab studies have shown that it is never too late to make or break any habit.

Better way is to change behaviour by reinforcing alternative course of action. Cardinal rule of behaviour change is what is rewarded is repeated and what is punished is avoided.

Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to make but if we want to achieve a certain result from any act then we have to make a habit to perform that act. The popular method to build habits is called the 21/90 rule given by a plastic surgeon Dr Maxwell Maltz who states that it takes 21 days to make a habit and 90 days to make it a permanent lifestyle change.

We all make habits in personal and professional life. We want to make habit which gives pleasure and want to avoid the habit which gives pain.

The brain is always looking for bigger and better offer but human behaviour follows the law of least effort. If we want to bring the change in the society then our target population should be children particularly adolescent and teenagers. As it is said, it is easy to make any habit in childhood but difficult to leave that habit in adulthood. Therefore the goal should be to target the children to give them good habits. Once a habit is formed, it is unlikely to break. It is rightly said that old habits die hard.

(The writer is an orthopaedic surgeon based in Dehradun)

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