A ‘habit’ is a learned pattern of activity that has, through repetition, become automatic, fixed and apparently effortlessly carried out. A habit is composed of a sequence of acts that follow upon a stimulus. It is a chain reaction of neural events, with a response occurring in all our bodily tissues. By its nature, a habit is a repetitive thought, action or behaviour.
Habits are neutral and can be both positive and negative factors in our lives, depending on the nature of the particular habit (e.g. virtues can be habits as much as vices). As a stereotyped response to doing some activity, habits can be useful for saving time and they come into play as we interact with our environment and not just from within ourselves.
However, once our habits, whether consciously or unconsciously learned, become automatic and unconscious, they become very difficult to change as we may no longer ‘see’ or feel them. (As FM Alexander once said, ‘The things that don’t exist are the most difficult to get rid of.’) Our unconscious habits simply feel right and comfortable to us. Unconscious habits lead to us thinking, behaving or performing tasks in stereotyped unthinking ways and may mean that we misuse our psychophysical selves in this process so that we may end up with unnecessary stress, tension and a negative result, including the development of symptoms such as aches or pain. (Also see faulty sensory appreciation.)
Our habitual misuse is addressed in Alexander lessons as we loosen the seemingly automatic link between a stimulus and our habitual response to it through learning inhibition and the directions, allowing us a new freedom of choice so that increasingly we – and not our negative, unexamined and unconscious habits – can consciously run our lives.
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