Today, I had my first coffee in two months. A quiet Saturday seemed like a good time to dip my toe back into the water, and the excellent coffee in the café across the street provided the perfect opportunity.
Besides being shellshocked from the once again increased price tag of £3.50, however, I have to say: Even this arguably great cappuccino tasted better in my head. It’s funny what a few weeks of different behavior can do. You think you cultivate habits that will serve your desires, but actually, that’s a two-way street — your desires will also follow your habits.
I find it impossible to determine which side of this equation is stronger, but I’m pretty sure either one can dominate our lives if we let it. Imagine someone steered entirely by impulse, someone who behaves only in whatever way will serve their next-immediate want or need. This is how addicts tend to alienate those around them. If someone were to use habit design to eliminate most of their desires, however, we would call that person a monk.
This isn’t to say that desire is invariably bad and habit design invariably good. There’s a time and place for both. It has, however, tremendous implications about what you might think are “your natural tastes.” As it turns out, most of those tastes are learned in ways quite similar to how you learned to ride a bike, behave at the dinner table, or do long division.
If you are exposed to a certain situation long enough (or often enough), you will find an efficient, repeatable pattern that allows you to navigate it. You will learn to move your feet along with the pedals, to use the fork with your left hand, and to carry over the remainder.
Similarly, if you were forced to listen to house music for 24 hours straight, eventually, you’d find something good about it — if only so your brain could protect itself from going insane. The same is true for any food, drink, art, or other subject in which you can have “taste.” If you tried hard enough, you could acquire — or drop — any taste you choose.
You can learn to love steamed broccoli without any sauce or seasoning. You can learn to dislike alcohol, cigarettes, or coffee. You can even learn to love a job you used to hate.
It won’t always work easily and almost never immediately, but if you find your preferences no longer serve you, remember: Your tastes are up to you. You can only choose them slowly, but that’s all the more reason to choose them wisely. Enjoy your dinner — and try not to overpay for a beverage you don’t need.