Habit

Habit is a funny thing.

You try something new, stepping away from trusted, old patterns and habits, and it feel as though you could never possibly get used to this way of doing something, it feels so… unfamiliar and clunky, yet often as not, if you persevere that novelty in turn may become a habit, a fact you may only realize when you try to adopt something new again and realize the old new has in the meantime become habit, integrated into all the other processes you surround yourself with, performing them day for day.

An interesting example to illustrate this mechanism are the Durolock gates that are available on a number of DMM’s karabiner range. This locking mechanism is made up of a two sprung sheathes, one within the other. In order to open the gate you start with a partial turn in the other direction from which you would normally twist in, then you need to hold the outer sheath up and continue the motion in the familiar direction. One of the things this mechanism addresses is unintentional roll-out of the gate if it is pushed up against structure.

My reaction when I first saw them was that they seemed interesting, but quite hard to get my head around. I found myself really struggling with that first motion in the “wrong” direction.

So I decided to switch all karabiners on my harness, lanyard and work positioning system to Ultra Os with Durolock gates and have been working with them for the past year or so. Yesterday, I was working off two anchor points in adjacent trees. For this purpose I borrowed Pascal’s climbing system. He uses Locksafe Ultra Os, a deeply familiar locking mechanism I have used for years – yet the switch from Durolock to Locksafe was disconcerting… it left me feeling quite exposed, as I found I was simply rolling right through the three motions of the Locksafe mechanism.

What this indicates to me is that the perception of what represents an adequate and appropriate degree of safety is quite fluid and can change over time. Whereas in years past it would never have occurred to me to question Locksafes, now I realised I was, due to the relative ease of opening.

I found that once I had got into the habit of operating the Durolock gate it really ceased to be much of an issue. The one place I struggle is with the one I have my figure of eight on on the back of my harness. This karabiner is upside down and out of sight… so consequently for this, I switched back to Locksafe, otherwise for the rest I am happy continuing to use the Durolocks.

Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting that there is one mechanism that sorts all issues, e.g. roll out, outside gate loading or function in adverse environments. I would rather encourage a differentiated decision making process when considering which shape of karabiner to use in which application, environment or physical location – the same is of course also true for locking mechanisms. What may be fantastic for one use may prove to be deeply problematic for another.

Habits can offer comfort and peace of mind, but now and again can do with a bit of airing and shaking up. Trying something new and different now and again can help to keep things interesting, offers insights into better or different ways of doing things – or conversely into why you decide to stick with the way you have done things up to now. But this realisation is only possible if you have the means of comparison, so now and again this may mean stepping outside of your immediate comfort zone, trying your hand at something new.