There is a universal truth amongst humans that is so subtle, you may have never even realized it. We all have habits and quirks that revolve around making absolutely, positively sure of very specific things.
A Reddit thread titled “What are your ‘just to be safe’ habits?” runs over 18,000 comments long. It’s filled with lots of familiar behaviors, like hitting the remote car lock multiple times at once, or checking to make sure you’re e-mailing the right person over and over before hitting send. We bet the following quirks sound familiar:
Redditors are far from alone in their “just checking” pursuit. Our co-workers spoke some very real truth about the things they do “to be safe,” too.
“I check for my keys in my bag repeatedly, every time I move locations,” said senior editor Janie Campbell. “Even right after locking my door and walking 10 feet to the elevator, at which point there’s nowhere else they could possibly have gone, I still double-check to make sure they’re in there.”
Food ― milk especially ― is a big one, too, along with a comical number of alarm clocks. “I smell fresh food and drinks before I consume them, even if I know they’re fresh or I just bought them,” deputy healthy living editor Lindsay Holmes revealed.
“When I’m waking up really early for a flight, I set four alarms in five-minute increments for when I want to wake up,” said associate editor Abigail Williams, who has never actually slept through any alarm the morning of a flight.
Our personal favorite, courtesy of growth and analytics editor Anna McGrady, has to do with ― what else? ― the bathroom. “I always use the restroom before I leave somewhere, just in case the next place I go is a bathroomless wasteland,” she said. So. True.
So why do we engage in the quirky behaviors we likely do without even realizing it?
According to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, professor of psychology at University of Massachusetts Amherst, it’s both a matter of simple forgetfulness and avoiding an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation.
“You don’t always attend to what you’re doing if your mind is on something else, so you honestly don’t remember whether you checked or not,” she said. “You’re rewarded for the checking behaviors or, shall I say, punished when you don’t. Checking that your email is going to the right person is a lesson you learn from hard experiences when you didn’t check (remember that time you hit ‘reply all’ by mistake?). The checking is protection against that.”
As for why it comforts us to lock the car door incessantly or triple check that the oven is off, Whitbourne explained that these things become habits, and habitual things “make you feel good.” Of course, she said, you could just “like hearing that car door remote go ‘click.’”
She pointed out that many of the behaviors listed in the Reddit thread have to do with making mistakes. “It’s so horrifying to commit some of the acts or lapses people describe that you will take extreme measures to avoid them in the future.”
Anyone who has accidentally emailed their entire office the link to a cat video can vouch for that logic. (Just us?)
Now excuse us while we make sure our front door, which we already locked twice, is still locked. You know, just to be safe.