We like repetition because it’s familiar and comfortable. But if we don’t recognise this bias in ourselves, we can get stuck in ruts that aren’t good for us.
A friend of mine was telling the story of when their son was a baby, and they were driving from Brisbane down to Coffs Harbour.
It’s about a four hour drive.
But their son was freaking out. He was not a happy chappy.
They were all going crazy. But the only thing that would chill him out was if they sung Old McDonald had a farm. Over and over.
Nothing else would cut it. Mary had a little lamb? Screams. Ga-lump went the little green frog? Screams. Stopping to take a breath or weep desperate tears into your cardy? Screams.
Only Old MacDonald could soothe his rage.
His parents started to feel like they had fallen into some sort of perverse hell. I don’t know when the last time you sung Old MacDonald was. But it’s pretty repetitive. Actually, it’s extremely repetitive.
Each round is only 15 seconds long. (I just timed it). Then it just repeats. So let’s do the maths.
That’s 4 reps a minute.
240 reps an hour.
960 reps over four hours.
That’s a truckload of E-I-E-I-O’s.
And that’s a lot of animals to come up with too. You’d need an entire zoological almanac. But even then, how many animal noises do you actually know?
What sound does a sloth make?
Every parent knows the torture of the toddler reps. The same story book over and over. The twelfth hour of peek-a-boo this week. The Wiggles on high-rotation.
The little ‘uns love repetition.
Repetition is comforting. The kid feels empowered because they know what’s happening next.
To most two year olds people must seem completely erratic and unpredictable. They’d never be able to understand the logic that drives adults about their world.
But when they’re singing a song they know the words too, all of the randomness is suddenly taken away. They can understand us.
And that must make them feel safe.
Kids like stimulation and novelty too. But I guess too much can be overwhelming. And when you’re a toddler, pretty much everything is new and exciting. Toasters, door-knobs, beards.
It must be nice to drop out of that world of intense novelty and stimulation into something predictable and comforting.
And I don’t think we’re any different. We love the stimulation of novelty and the comfort of repetition. We just need different doses.
By the time you’re an adult, the world becomes pretty familiar. You’ve pretty much seen it all. And most of our days involve a lot of repetition.
Few people have jobs that are genuinely different day to day.
And so rather than repetition, we crave novelty. We want the new and exciting. The thrills that a new car promises us. Exotic holidays. A handsome stranger next to us in the supermarket isle who needs an extra twenty cents to make their bill.
“Oh no, you don’t have to thank me, but sure, why not, dinner would be nice.”
We’re all in touch with our thrill-seeker side, whatever our definition of thrill is.
But that part of us that found comfort in repetition when we were younger never really dies. We still take comfort in habit.
Chain restaurants are built on this idea. McDonalds goes out of its way to make every McDonald’s the same. Walk into any McDonald’s anywhere in Australia, probably anywhere in the world, and you’ll know pretty much exactly what you’re going to get.
The menu, the layout out, the uniforms.
Why not let individual restaurant managers bring their own style and flair to the business. Let them cater to specific tastes in their region.
Because McDonald’s knows the product they’re selling. And that product is comfort.
If you want new and exciting, there’s probably a thousand different restaurants you’ve never tried before. Take a gamble on one of those.
But if you just want to go somewhere where you know exactly what you’re going to get, where there’s no surprises, nothing out of the ordinary, then there’s McDonalds.
But we don’t recognise the comfort-seeker in us as well as we recognise the thrill-seeker.
When we crave new thrills, we form ideas about the new things we want. Mentally, we ‘go’ to them.
But when we crave comfort, we often feel it as a desire to get away – get away from the noise, this crowded bus, the pressures at work.
Rather than a ‘going to’, it’s more of a ‘getting away from’ kinda feeling.
And when we do get away, when we drop into that familiar queue at McDonald’s, we feel a release. An unwinding. Take away the stimulus and we can finally relax.
So if you want to make good decisions, you need to be switched on to this comfort-seeker bias – and the people who would exploit it.
Take election time. Every telegraph pole in my electorate has one candidate or another’s face stuck to it.
But there’s no information. Maybe some cheap slogan about ‘the future together’ or whatever, but really, it’s just a face and a name.
But the point is they’re not trying to convince you that they have superior policies. All they’re tyring to do is make you feel ‘comfortable’ with their candidate.
See their face enough times and they start to feel like a known quantity. They’re not so scary. Voting for them wouldn’t be such a big challenge.
Look out for it. I think people often don’t take the best option, in favour of the least challenging option.
We all need comfort. Nothing wrong with that. But don’t let the comfort seeker run the show
Any tips for getting round our need to be safe and secure and the biases that come with it?