“Habit makes the mind insensitive”– Jiddu Krishnamurti
In this article, we will discuss how we form habits, the dangers associated with habit formation, how to develop enduring and beneficial practices overall, particularly with physical fitness in mind.
We generally consider ‘habits’ as mechanical and repetitive responses to certain needs – real or imagined. Hence, they aren’t based on active choices, but in a sense, automatic responses. Websters Dictionary defines habit as a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior. No particular reference is made to the labels “good” or “bad” habits. If our responses to needs are rational and actively chosen, it is possible to walk out of habits, while expanding our practices and behaviors that benefit our physical being. This is the main focus of this article.
Modern understanding of habit formation is based on the experiments of Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, who showed how dogs salivate when fed, this led to the concept of ‘conditioning’.? His experiments in the 1890s revealed that one can train your brain to respond a certain way to specific stimuli. Because a bell was rung at dinnertime, dogs started drooling at the sound of the bell in preparation for their dinner.? While such a process happens also for humans, we are capable of rationality, and can take steps to prevent ‘conditioning’.
For example, you may want to link the smell of jasmine with bedtime. You can use a jasmine perfume spray, get into bed, and go to sleep. When you do this repeatedly, you train yourself to get sleepy when you smell jasmine (conditioning). However, there may be situations when this is not desirable, and so the definitions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ habits are relative. This shows that awareness of what we do is the key to breaking habit formation, and cultivate healthy practices such as maintaining a good posture during physical activities. It may be noted that such practices cannot be automated, and requires a certain bodily awareness.
A few suggestions:
Start with day to day activities to be aware of.
As with any new pursuit, you need to start small. Changing your behavior feels like a huge task. That’s why vague resolutions like “losing weight” are doomed to fail.?
Starting small makes it easier to step towards more complex and bigger tasks such as losing weight. For example, acts like taking the staircase instead of elevator, and walking to the closeby grocery store instead of arranging delivery are good to begin with.
Other Tips for cultivating healthy practices
Use your environment. If you want to eat more fruit, put fruit in plain sight, and hide away snacks. If you want to exercise more, keep your workout gear within reach. If you want to read more, keep your select books always within easy reach.? Small acts based on awareness of the environment enable you to undertake bigger tasks.
Face your fears and other negative feelings. If you dread working out, find out. For example, if your fear is based on comparison with successful body builders or physically stronger friends, drop your habit of comparison and start small. If you hate vegetables, find tasty, yet healthy recipes that make you want to eat them.
There will be roadblocks during the process, but do not regard those as permanent.
Tomorrow is always a different day!
No matter what, keep your spirits as you are swimming in the River of Life!