You know you’re not the only one who avoids stepping on sidewalk cracks (or can’t sleep without the closet door shut all the way). But what do your little idiosyncrasies really mean? Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, an NYC-based psychologist and frequent Dr. Oz and Today Show guest expert, gives us the scoop on 6 run-of-the-mill rituals.
A need for even numbers
Do you: always let the gas pump run a little longer so you can end on an exact 20 gallons? Keep running on the treadmill until the mile marker or calorie count hits a perfectly rounded amount?
It may be because: “You have a natural affinity toward even numbers. There is research that shows that some people do have this affinity, more so than those drawn to odd numbers. Being near the number (or even numbers in general) gives those people a sense of relief or comfort,” says Hartstein. “It can become problematic if someone is so rigid that she doesn’t have any tolerance for odd numbers (i.e. when she shops, she spends time trying to figure out the tax on everything to make sure she’ll pay an even dollar total). But in general, if it’s not greatly interfering with your life like that, it’s not something to worry about.”
Arranging things in a particular way
Do you: always keep bills in your wallet in ascending numerical order? Need each mug handle in your cabinet facing the same way at all times?
It may be because: “This is a behavior you’ve been taught, or one that you’ve fallen into, to keep you organized and efficient. Putting the dollar bills in order helps you find your money faster. Mugs facing the same direction may allow you to fit more in the cabinet,” says Hartstein. “Unless you’re obsessive about it and feel incredibly out of control if objects are not ‘just so,’ the habit isn’t problematic.”
Discomfort with the top of the hour
Do you: set your daily alarm clock for 7:01 a.m. instead of 7:00? Always program the microwave for 1:35 when the directions say “a minute and a half”?
It may be because: “The top of the hour represents a new beginning to you. It’s typical for some people. That sense of a new beginning can make them nervous, so they create tricks to try to avoid it,” says Hartstein. “Picking an offbeat time setting isn’t a harmful ritual, but it’s also not a realistic strategy. The rest of the world isn’t going to stop the top of the hour from happening.”
Do you: feel like you can’t go to bed if the closet door isn’t closed all the way? Have trouble sleeping if any of your limbs are hanging off the bed?
It may be because: “They’re bedtime habits that began in childhood—that’s typically when they start, as we’re learning how to soothe ourselves to sleep—and they’ve lasted into adulthood,” says Hartstein. “If they help you get the right amount of solid sleep, they are just fine. But if you find that you are spending too much time on your rituals, you may want to try dropping some. Tell yourself that things don’t have to be perfect, and allow yourself the opportunity to sit with any slight anxiety you may feel when they’re not. The more you ride that emotional wave, the less control the emotion has over you.”
Specific way of walking
Do you: constantly avoiding stepping on sidewalk cracks? Feel the need to step onto a plane with your right foot (never the left!) whenever you fly?
It may be because: “These are superstitions taught by others, or beliefs you’ve established, to take control of situations that feel out of your hands. (For instance, you’re feeling like you’ll have a safe plane ride as long as you enter on the right foot.),” says Hartstein. “They provide a sense of comfort when you are feeling a lack of self-control. Just like the other quirks, they’re generally not problematic unless they begin to consume your thoughts or your time.”
Aversion to textures
Do you: get creeped out by the sight or feel of bumpy objects like gourds? Feel repulsed if you touch the powdery bottom of a slice of pizza?
It may be because: “These are aversions that started in childhood, possibly due to a slight sensory processing issue that can make certain fabrics or textures really challenging to tolerate,” says Hartstein. “It’s possible to manage these aversions by exposing yourself to the items and telling yourself that they aren’t so bad, to build tolerance. But if they’re textures you don’t have to deal with on a daily basis, it’s fine to continue avoiding them as long as the habit doesn’t interfere with day-to-day behaviors.”