Familiarity breeds contempt – so the old saying goes – and, indeed, there is considerable psychological evidence to back this up. Many years research has proved that the normal mind performs its routine tasks in a mindless manner, without paying what is being done any attention at all. This psychological “facility” do perform routine tasks without paying them any attention has undoubted benefits – imagine if you had to pay attention to how you put one foot in front of the other when you walk? Imagine if you had to reacquire your driving skills every time that you sat behind the wheel of a car? Yes, “automaticity”, as it is known, is of huge positive benefit in the normal course of our ordinary daily lives. But it also has a huge downside because, sooner or later, everything in the normal life becomes routine – as I ask all of my clients on my workshops, did they get the same “oomph” out of waking up beside their nearest and dearest as they did the very first morning that they woke up together. Answer the question for yourself. We all know that, at the very least, familiarity dulls the senses.

As an observer of human behaviour, I’ve seen this “familiarity problem” raise its ugly head in the most public of places. Travelling back from a workshop in Ireland a couple of years back, I sat myself down at a comfortable window seat on the midday Dublin to Geneva flight. The aircraft was pretty full – it was a Friday and plenty of people were heading for the hills (or the Alps) for a long weekend. One such couple were seated just in front of me. A gentleman of a certain age (an expression my wife and I use to describe a certain type of person who, having obviously climbed success’s ladder, now thinks that he deserves the appropriate due deference – more of that some other time), dressed appropriately, in an expensive designer shirt and oh-too-neatly pressed corduroy trousers settled into his seat with the business pages of that Friday’s Irish Times. His wife presented an altogether different picture – overweight, poorly dressed, poorly groomed. I’m not being pass-remarkable, I’m simply giving you the picture of a lady who, as events would prove, looked as if she’d spent a lifetime of subservience to the said gentleman.

As we got ready for take-off, the usual announcements were made – pay attention to the security demonstration, switch off all mobile ‘phones (cells or portables for those who don’t know what a mobile is!) – the usual stuff. The lady that I have just described asked her neatly-pressed husband if he could reach up into the overhead bin to fetch her handbag – she wasn’t sure if she had turned her ‘phone off. Unfortunately strict editorial guidelines prevent me from giving your word-for-word what was next said – but I’ll give it to you with the language well toned down! “No I will not get your f’ing handbag. I’ve settled down and I have no intention whatsoever of disturbing myself.” He continued “You should have thought of all this before you sat down yourself, you stupid, f’ing woman – if you want to check your ‘phone go and f’ing do it yourself”. She rather meekly said she would leave things are they were. But he continued: “This, you know, is f’ing typical. I’ve spent years telling you that you’re a stupid, half-witted f’ing idiot – and, there you go, you’re proving me right again.” This was all said at the top of his voice. He appeared completely oblivious to the fact that everyone was listening. Perhaps he’d developed a long established habit of talking to her like this and, at this stage, it was just the norm for him.

Undoubtedly, at some point in the dim and distant past, these two people were madly in love with one another. But, as we’ve already said, familiarity breeds contempt. It may be an extreme example, but how many of us grant goodbye to the ones we claim to love as we rush out of the house stressed in the morning – barely able to raise a proper goodbye to someone from we couldn’t; tear ourselves away that first morning. How many of us grunt an “I’m tired” at our nearest and dearest or young children when we stumble, battle-weary, in from work in the evening. Our relationships with the people with whom we spend large parts of our lives become routine and our resultant behaviour becomes mindless.

Surely, when we come to define success and happiness for ourselves, our definition must pay some attention to our so-called loved ones. I know that the vast majority of my clients tell me, when asked to reflect on their priorities, that their loved ones are very important to them. Often their actions disprove this. I also know that, when asked to define how success would look or feel, I am told that the smiling eyes of those loved ones are in that picture. Yet, daily normal living seems to overwhelm the normal person to the point that, not only are they stressed out, they want to share the stress, to “spread the joy”, when they arrive home in the evening.

Well, I think it’s time to pause, reflect on who’s really important and close to you and come to your senses. As a client of mine once told me, he tried to seek out a first-time experience every time. However difficult that might be, if we don’t overcome our capacity for automaticity, and the resultant manner in which we relate to the familiar, the ultimate loser is us. Because, if you think you know your nearest and dearest after all these years, how much more familiar do you think you are with the person with whom you’ve shared your whole life – you?

Author's Bio: 

Willie Horton has been enabling his clients live their dream since he launched is now acclaimed two-day Personal Development Seminars all the way back in 1996. His clients include top leaders in major corporations such as Pfizer, Deloitte, Nestle, Merrill Lynch, Wyeth, KPMG, G4S and Allergan together with everyone from the stay-at-home parent to sports-people. An Irish ex-banker and ex-accountant, he lives in the French Alps from where he travels the world as a much sought after motivational speaker and mentor. In 2008 he launched Gurdy.Net where is self-help seminars are now online. For more information visit Willie Horton’s Personal Development Website Gurdy.Net