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Concept Spotlight: Habit

by Ellen on August 24th, 2011

Habits are hard to change.

To change a habit, we must react in a way that is different to our usual manner of behaving, and that causes a lot of problems. Most people are unaware that habit is part of the use of the self as a whole, and that if we want to change a habit on a fundamental level, we first have to change the overall use of the self. Eradicating a habit directly will not actually change the behavior, since those patterns are already ingrained in our general use of self. If we attempt to change a habit without changing the whole self, the result will be nothing more than “cure by transfer,” or substituting one bad habit with another that is perceived as less detrimental. Alexander defines habit as the embodiment of all human reactions, as determined by the manner of use of the self. In order to change a habit, we have to change our reaction to the stimulus by changing the way our whole self approaches it.

This task is made difficult by the fact that sensory experiences resulting from habit are often pleasant and feel “right” or “comfortable,” causing the individual to want to continue in the habit in order to continue to receive these pleasant experiences. Furthermore, the attitude of most people towards learning a new activity in order to bring about a desired change is anxiety and a desire to be “right”, coupled with a fear of being “wrong.” In the case of bad habits, however, one’s conception of “right” is wrong. Therefore, any time a person tries to be “right,” he will only be making himself more wrong. To change the habit we have to intentionally do what feels wrong.

The important thing to remember is that change is a gradual process, and cannot be accomplished in one day. Doing what feels wrong results in a disturbing and confusing experience, and so the change must be undertaken slowly to keep those experiences from becoming so strong that they dissuade the student from continuing.

Also, remember that every day is different. What works as the “right” way of standing here and now, in this lesson, was not necessarily “right” for yesterday, nor will it be “right” for tomorrow. It is a process, and the student should allow the change to happen at its own pace, simply following the principles and allowing whatever is “right” for right now to exist and then fall away later on, to be replaced by tomorrow’s “right.” In general, it is found that students have little difficulty in accepting these ideas theoretically, but initially fail in putting them into practice.

Habits are hard to change.

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