This past weekend I saw several films at the FullFrame Documentary Film Festival. The ones that I liked most were The Case of The Three Sided Dream, about Rahsaan Roland Kirk (who I’ve been a fan of for years) and The Chaperone, an animated short that was surprisingly funny.
The film that has stuck with me the most, though, was The Green Prince. It centers on the relationship between the son of one of the leaders of Hamas and his handler in the Shin Bet (Israeli secret service). I’ve seen several documentaries on Israel/Palestine, but this one really stood out.
Rather than focusing on the conflict and its history, or one particular series of events, or cause/effect, this was really a story about the relationship between two men who know that they are on different sides but have found some common ground. They’re both articulate and conflicted, and I was never quite sure where the story was going to go.
The film was really remarkable for its lack of moralizing. So many documentaries, particularly ones that deal with politics and war, keep hammering home a directorial viewpoint. The Green Prince seemed to keep trying to do the opposite – to avoid black and white depictions of right and wrong and instead to emphasize the shades of gray in between. It touched on issues of culture, personal identity, choice, responsibility, and more, but always with a very light touch.
I really appreciated the way this story was told, and since the film did well at Sundance, I’m guessing it will have decent distribution. I’d definitely recommend keeping an eye out for it.
Chapter 1 in Duhigg’s book is The Habit Loop: How Habits Work. It starts with the case of EP, who in 1993 lost a portion of his brain to viral encephalitis. EP was not able to recall anything recent, but his long-term memory seemed to be unaffected. His wife was told she would need to keep a close eye on him, as he would not remember that he had amnesia and his home would seem unfamiliar. However, researchers found that he would regularly take walks and find his way home without any problems, despite not being able to verbalize how to do so: “…the visitor asked Eugene where he lived. ‘I don’t know, exactly,’ he said. Then he walked up his sidewalk, opened his front door…”
Researchers hypothesized that this ability to form habits had somethign to do with the basal ganglia, and studies on rats seemed to show that the basal ganglia was central to recalling patterns and acting on them. The brain essentially looks for cues at the beginning of a routine task, then when it recognizes a cue it goes on a sort of auto-pilot as the routine takes over, and finally there is a reward once the task is completed successfully. This cue-routine-reward process is what Duhigg calls The Habit Loop.
The reason the habit loop is important is precisely because the brain shuts down during the routine. So once a habit is formed, unless you deliberately fight it, the pattern will unfold automatically.
Research shows that these routines and habits never really go away – even if we replace them with something else for a long period of time. This can be positive, like the way you never forget how to ride a bicycle. But it also highlights the difficulty of breaking bad habits when repeatedly exposed to the same old cues. The key, then, is to be very conscious of the cues and rewards if we want to change routines.
Obviously this site has languished for some time, for pretty typical reasons: tumblr, twitter, lack of firm commmitment, etc. I’ve thought of reviving this blog as a place for longer-form, more thought out pieces of writing many times, and even have some draft posts to attest to that intention.
But intentions are not action, and I think the length of non-posting has contributed to additional non-posting. And the longer I hop from service to service for things like link-sharing, discovery and saving, the more I see a need for a central place that I control to save info. Because a lot of these services have already come and gone (or gone from freemium to premium) since I last posted in early 2009.
So I’m going to try posting something here daily in March and April. I’m in a new book club that is reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit for March, so I expect that a number of posts will have that as a topic. I typically dislike business and/or self-help books, but a good friend recommended this one, and habit and automaticity are things that I’ve been exploring quite a bit the past several years.
I’ll clost this post with a quote from Fred Wilson that I keep on my bulletin board at work: “I am not an organized person. But I am a disciplined person. My routine is the key to me getting things done.”
Posted in personal
Inspired by similar posts by kottke, blackrimglasses and 10ch
Toms River, NJ
One or more nights were spent in each city. Cities are listed in the order visited.