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I sometimes find myself doing something I did not intend, just because the force of habit is so strong. For instance: On the way back from work, turning toward home instead of the grocery store, even though I was planning on doing the shopping. Or tossing the newspaper in the recycling bin right after my wife asked me to save an article for her.

Is there a verb for this behavior? As in "Sorry, I just {screwed up by habit}."

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While it's not a verb, I most often just say something along the lines of "Sorry, force of habit." I haven't been misunderstood yet. –  Geobits Jan 9 at 22:11
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3 Answers

"Guilty pleasure" or a form of "vicious" are the ones, that imply doing something

  1. wrong,
  2. by force of habit.

Other than that, the situation of tossing the newspaper into the bin is not vicious per se, but could become so, if you do it daily and your wife wants to have cut out something before daily...

All together: I do not think there is something that combines "autopilot" (which does not mean by force of habit implicitly, but doing something without thinking / "in trance") with wrong, except these two. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vice

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Depending on the context, you could say you were "acting by reflex" as in the automatic reflexes our bodies make (eg. knee-jerk). "Reflexing" comes to mind, but that's non-standard and awkward-sounding.

"Sorry, knee-jerk" is a phrase I could see myself adopting.

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There is an idiom used in the US on autopilot (or on automatic pilot) meaning

you do something without thinking about what you are doing, usually because you have done it many times before: By the second week of the election campaign she was making all her speeches on automatic pilot.

While not a verb in itself, you could say

I was on autopilot.

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+1 Also evident in Br.Eng. too. –  Ste Jan 9 at 20:44
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"On autopilot" doesn't inherently imply doing something "wrong". –  Dirk v B Jan 10 at 0:54
    
Kiorrik's comment is an important detail -- this can be used to explain that something you did wrong was due to habit, but you do have to say that you did something wrong. –  pandubear Jan 10 at 1:52
    
@Kiorrik I agree in principle, but unless something has gone wrong (or is at least being done without a reasonable amount of diligence) the term probably would not be used. –  bib Jan 10 at 1:54
    
I think it needs to be combined with recidivist to give it a sense of bad e.g. mild recidivist on autopilot .. or something like that. –  user13107 Jan 10 at 2:10
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