My son recently reported that his teacher had said, in class, that ‘it is important to make sure that when you learn to do something, you are careful to learn the right way to do things. Otherwise, you could develop bad habits. And’, she said, ‘it is very hard to break a bad habit.’
What do you think? Was she right?
I’ll give you a moment to think about it.
Ready? Let’s investigate!
The average view of habit.
Most people talk about habits as though the habit is something external to them: “I have this bad habit of slumping,” one of my students might be hear to say. The habit seems to have a separate existence, and has atached itself, carbuncle-like, upon the student. It sneakily intrudes into the student’s day without permission, and certainly without consent. And if the student could just detach this nasty habit, then all would be well.
FM on habit.
FM Alexander wrote very clearly against this conception of habits. He said:
“the establishment of a habit in a particular person is associated in that person with a certain habitual manner of using the self, and that because the organism works as an integrated whole, change of a particular habit in the fundamental sense is impossible as long as this habitual manner of use persists.”*
In other words, I have a ‘manner of use’ of myself that is particular to me. It is my ‘me-ness’. Any habits that I have are not additions to this me-ness. They are a part of the me-ness (manner of use of myself).
And if I want to change the habit, I have to make a change to the me-ness.
Changing the me-ness
So… It sounds quite heavy, doesn’t it? It sounds like my son’s teacher might be right – changing habits is hard work!
Making a change to the me-ness is relatively fast and simple. Because we control our me-ness. We just need to change our thinking. So, for example, I could decide that I don’t want to be lumbered with the extra kilos that I gained over Christmas, and that I am going to be more controlled in my calorie intake over the next few weeks.
Ah! I hear you say. But that’s just a decision! How are you going to stick to it?
By using Alexander’s secret. He wrote: “all those who wish to change something in themselves must learn to make it a principle of life to inhibit their immediate reaction… They must continue this inhibition whilst they employ the new direction of their use.” **
To carry on with my dieting example, the next time I feel peckish and head for the kitchen, I can stop and, prior to picking up that biscuit, I can remember my decision and renew my decision to carry on with my calorie control.
My son’s teacher is right that learning the best way to do things is important. But changing habits is only as long and hard as you choose to make it. And that’s your ‘me-ness’ at work, too.
1. Make a decision. Change happens at the speed of thought!
2. When you are tempted to respond in the old way, STOP!
3. Keep stopping your old response, and carry on with your new response.
Give it a go, and let me know what you think.
*FM Alexander, Universal Constant in Living in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p,580.
** FM Alexander, The Use of the Self in the Irdeat Edition, p,473f.
Image by Ariel da Silva Parreira, stock.xchng