The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.

This quote comes from an essay by Jonathan Safran Foer in the New York Times titled: How Not to Be Alone (published 8 June 2013). The essay is about technology eroding human connection, but this one sentence is what I want to focus on.

The nature of habits is that they are shortcuts around the hard work of thinking consciously about every little thing we do, how we act, the expressions we use, how we speak, even how we think (see Unhelpful Thinking Styles). In many ways we are, to other people at least, the sum of our habits.

Initially, to form a habit we shape our behaviour, consciously choosing certain actions and thoughts over others. With sufficient repetition a habit forms, a preference is established of resorting to the habit rather than the hard work of something that is new or different to us. Each habit we have causes slight changes to our brain, reinforcing the neurological pathways which cause the habit to occur and reducing the threshold to trigger the habit so it runs efficiently given the appropriate circumstances.

The sum of hundreds of habits we all perform every single day wears a groove in the matrix of society. Multiply this by hundreds of thousands of people each running in their habitual groove and social norms arise, trends occur such as the generally bad attitudes of Dunedin drivers, the laid-back nature of most Polynesians, the brashness of Americans.

Because our habits wear a groove through our lives, they are very difficult to change. Obstructions can be ground down by the persistence of following a habitual track which requires less energy than altering course. This is most obvious in older people who have deeply ingrained habits that they are not even aware of. But it is not impossible to change habits, it does take great persistence and determination to make any changes stick

My typical approach is to go through each day without giving much thought to my habits. But if I consider the effect my habits could be having on the person I will be in ten years time, I need to decide what aspects of me now I want to nurture and what needs to be deleted. Then I need to look at which habits cause the attribute I don’t like and how I could change my habits to support better attributes. (There is a good bit of unfinished thinking here!)

Dunedin, New Zealand
21°C

The information here is consolidated from half a dozen documents from various sources that I have found over the years as I’ve learned about depression and how to battle it.

People experiencing depression or anxiety (or both) often have automatic ways of thinking which can exacerbate the emotional state. Because these thinking styles are automatic they can be difficult to change, but simply identifying when they occur is a good step on the road to changing our default thinking mode.

All or nothing thinking

Viewing things in absolute, black-or-white terms, without recognising any middle ground.

  • success or failure
  • perfect or worthless
  • either I do it right or not at all

Blaming

Focusing on who is to blame for a problem rather than what can be done to solve it.

Mental filter

This is a sort of tunnel vision in which you focus on only one part of a situation and ignore the rest. Usually it involves focusing on only the negatives and ignoring the positives.

Jumping to conclusions

It would be nice to think that whenever you have a hunch about something is is correct, but the reality is that often we are wrong in our hunches. If we rely on this type of thinking it can lead to problems. There are two key types of jumping to conclusions:

  • Mind reading: Imagining you know what others are thinking, feeling or intending to do. This is a very common way of thinking.
  • Fortune telling: Predicting the future. Making negative predictions about how something will turn out.

Emotional reasoning

Assuming that because you feel a certain way then what you think must be true. Have you ever felt anxious about something and thought to yourself, “I know this isn’t going to work out well” yet everything turned out just fine? This is emotional reasoning. “I feel, therefore it is” is not valid logic.

  • I feel embarrassed so I must be an idiot.
  • I feel anxious, something bad is going to happen.

Labelling

Assigning global, negative labels to yourself or other people. By defining yourself or other people by one specific behaviour, usually one you consider negative, you are ignoring all the other positive aspects of yourself or others.

  • I’m such an idiot.
  • I’m completely useless.
  • They’re so inconsiderate.

Over-generalising

Drawing sweeping conclusions based on a single incident. Seeing a pattern based upon a single event, or being overly broad in the conclusions you draw.

  • Everything is always rubbish.
  • Nothing good ever happens.
  • Things never turn out well for me.

Catastrophising

Blowing things out of proportion. Viewing a situation as terrible, awful, horrible. Taking what might be a slight problem and viewing the most extreme negative version of it.

  • What if… !!!
  • Oh no …

Downplaying positives

Minimising or dismissing your positive qualities, achievements or behaviours by telling yourself they are unimportant or do not count. This may include exaggerating the positive qualities of other people while downplaying your own attributes.

  • That doesn’t count, I was just lucky.
  • They didn’t really mean it, they were just being polite.

Shoulds and musts

Focusing on how things or people ‘should or ‘must’ be. Treating your own standards or preferences as rules that everyone must live by. It is not always unhelpful to think, “I should get my work done on time”, but if the ‘shoulds’ or ‘musts’ become unreasonably demanding it leads to guilt and disappointment.

Personalisation

Blaming yourself or taking responsibility for something that wasn’t completely your fault. Telling yourself that events relate to you when they may not.

  • This is my fault.

Intolerance of uncertainty

Struggling to accept things being uncertain or unknown.

  • What if something bad happens?

It has been so hot in Dunedin lately that I’ve stopped wearing my (analogue) watch but then really miss the convenience of having the time on my wrist. Pulling out my phone to check the time is a hassle.

In the process of slowly backfilling my blog with my Facebook content. Facebook really object to deleting old posts, an annoying popup asking “are you sure” and assuming you’ve been hacked with every item I delete.

I have an interesting article titled Why do dogs and cats eat grass? by Benjamin L. Hart which was published in the journal Veterinary Medicine (December 2008, 103, 12 pp648-649).

The author did several small surveys of students and customers who were dog owners based on the assumption that plant eating is associated with illness or dietary deficiency. The results indicated that illness was unlikely to be the reason for eating grass and that vomiting afterwards is not as common as thought.

To dig a bit deeper they used an online survey to ask dog owners about plant eating behaviour. With 1571 useful responses:

  • 67% said their dogs eat plants daily or weekly.
  • 8% reported their dogs showing signs of illness before eating plants.
  • 22% said their dog regularly vomits eating plants
  • Younger dogs are seen eating plants more often than older dogs

There was no indication that dogs with lower fibre in their diet ate plants more than other dogs.

Contrary to popular opinion, most dogs that eat grass or other plants are not unwell and most do not vomit afterwards. So why do they eat grass?

Worms

Both domestic and wild dogs eat plant material. It does not seem to be associated with illness or dietary deficiency but is a common behaviour so presumably serves some purpose.

The theory put forth by the author of this article is that eating plants helps purge parasites such as intestinal worms from the gut by increasing how quickly material moves through the gut and also by wrapping around the worms and carrying them out of the body

Sooo, about poo?

My question then is; why does my disgusting dog eat her own poo? She does eat grass but the theory of removing parasites is defeated by her coprophagy!

 

Dunedin, New Zealand
18°C

The actual name of the infographic I’m discussing today is the ‘Australian Communities Report’, but I suspect I found it through a link with the more provocative title of Why Aussies Hate Church and I kind of like that.

I have no idea where I downloaded this infographic from, but it is available here at the McCrindle Research website, along with a bunch of other interesting infographic resources.

Why it is of interest

I’m quite interested in this because Australia is culturally similar to New Zealand and so social attitudes are likely to be comparable between the two nations and I’ve not stumbled across much demographic research into the religious beliefs of Kiwis.

Overview

I’m cautious of taking infographics at face value because the don’t indicate how the data were collected, what analyses were used and in this one there is nothing stating what error margins may underly the numbers presented. But all I want is a general indication of social values so none of that is particularly important.

This is a 4 page document and very busy so I will go through it section by section and see what we can discover.

Australians and religion

Half of Australians do not identify with any religion. This includes two main groups; those who have no religion at all, and those who say they are spiritual but have no main religion. ‘Spirituality’ is described as self awareness and a deeper connection, whereas ‘religion’ is summarised by attendance, tasks and obligation.

There are still a lot of people who said they do have a religion and 40% of Aussies identify with a form of Christianity, 18% are protestant or evangelical, and 22% are Catholic or Orthodox. Other religions such as Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and the catchall ‘other’ each represent less than 5% of Australians.

How actively involved are religious people?

Christians have a slight edge at actively practicing their faith, 23% of protestant of evangelical Christians regularly attend a place of worship in comparison to 13% of those claiming other religious beliefs. (I don’t know what happened to the Catholics, they have vanished from this section!)

There are a big chunk of people claiming a belief but not doing much with it, around 60%, whether Christian or other faiths.

Influences on religious views

Current ‘religious status’

The question asked here seems odd to me: “What best describes your current religious status?” My answer would have been, “huh?”

Anyway, they have divided the responses into:

  • Never been religious (24%)
  • Not now religious (29%)
  • Synthesizer (11%) [beliefs don’t fit any one religion]
  • Adopter (4%) [Non-religious prior to choosing current religion]
  • Converter (5%) [Switched from a different religion]
  • Continuer (27%) [Committed to religion raised in]

The heading for this section is ‘Outgrowing Religion’, I guess meaning the not now religious, adopters and converters (38% of people surveyed) have all moved on from the beliefs they were raised with.

Resistant to change

Despite the results immediately above, 51% of Australians are not open at all to changing their religious worldview. You could probably add the 31% who are slightly open to that number, meaning 82% of Australians would be very difficult to convert. However, the many of the people who are not open at all to changing could well be Christians so it’s hard to make a solid conclusion.

What influences views of Christianity

The question was: Who or what has most influenced your perceptions & opinions of Christians & Christianity? (Respondents could select multiple options)

Parents and family have the most influence by far, 67% selected this option. Mass media and social media, networks and relationships, other, and books and articles all had around 20 to 25% responses.

The results of this question are hard to interpret. It stands to reason that for most people their parents will have an influence on their views of Christians, but it is quite possible that people also selected other options and these may have had a significant impact on their views.

Conversations about faith

Do you ever talk about spirituality or religion when you gather with friends? For a lot of people (47%) the answer was “no”. A further 46% ‘occasionally’ talk about religion with their friends. Overall, Australians don’t typically talk about religion or faith. I’d imagine the same applies to New Zealanders, it certainly does in my experience and generally when they do talk about religion it is not positive.

Attitude towards Christianity

The heading for this question is: “Significant ‘warmth’ towards Christianity”. The numbers don’t back this up. A small proportion of respondents (4%) were passionately opposed to Christianity, 37% have some or strong reservations, and 25% had a more positive view. The other 33% considered themselves Christian. So if those who are already Christians are excluded, the general viewpoint is pretty negative towards our faith.

Belief blockers

The next page of the infographic is about aspects of Christianity that repel people from Christianity.

The top 10 issues are:

  1. Church abuse
  2. Hypocrisy
  3. Judging others
  4. Religious views
  5. Suffering
  6. Money
  7. Outdated
  8. Hell & condemnation
  9. Homosexuality
  10. Exclusivity

It seems that the perception of Christians as being blinkered old fashioned hypocrites who like to judge people and think everyone except Christians are going to hell is pretty normal. We also have outdated views on homosexuality and sanction institutional sexual abuse by covering it up. And we wonder why nobody wants to join our happy club!

Beliefs about Jesus

Most non-Christians (69%) either think that Jesus did not really exist or that he was just an ordinary bloke. Though a surprising 35% do think he had divine powers and was actually the Son of God. So despite an overwhelmingly negative view of His followers, there is a significant proportion of people who respect Jesus.

Miracles

Yet when it comes to miracle attributed to Jesus thing get murky. A healthy 53% accept that Jesus died on a cross, but only 31% think he rose from the dead. A skeptical 47% say, “no way” to that idea. The virgin birth yields similar numbers, 50% reckon that is bollocks. Walking on water is obviously even more preposterous, 53% ‘do not at all believe’ in this.

Summary

I’m not surprised by the statistics shown in this infographic, and I do think that they would closely reflect how Kiwi’s view religion, Christianity, Christians and Jesus. Rationally I know plenty of people who have strongly negative opinions about the church and Christians, but I am still  bit gobsmacked at how strongly negative the perception of Christians is. We really have an appalling public image and while the popular media do play up stories about negative happenings in the church, all of those stories have some spark that started the fires.

Are all these people completely misinformed, or are we completely missing the mark in our ‘following Jesus’?