How to Change a Habit
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
A Silly Experiment
December 5th, 2022
"Habit formation is incredibly useful because the conscious mind is the bottleneck of the brain…
…Whenever possible, the conscious mind likes to pawn off tasks to the nonconscious mind to do automatically. This is precisely what happens when a habit is formed. Habits reduce cognitive load and free up mental capacity, so you can allocate your attention to other tasks."
Image: Nadezhda Moryak
I want to tell you a story.
Warning: It’s a silly one.
There are so many things we do automatically. We have spent years and years forming habits so that we don’t need to think about the things we do repeatedly. We send them to some back chambers of our mind to work by themselves and we can pretty much forget about them.
We automate driving, brushing our teeth, getting dressed, walking, maintaining our balance, breathing (luckily)... I could go on and on. A great deal of what we do in our daily lives just happens by itself.
The formation of habits is essential, as James Clear says. It is also dangerous. We notice the danger when we face habits we don’t like and want to change. We often find it extremely difficult. Smoking, drinking, eating habits, watching TV, procrastinating.
What we do in each Feldenkrais® class, what I do in Persistent Growth, what any good somatic education method does, is bring automated (and thus sub-conscious) habitual patterns into our awareness so that we can examine them, create choice, and change them or improve them whenever necessary.
OK, so here’s my story. I’ve decided to bring such an automatic habit into my awareness and fiddle with it. I chose to look at the way I put on my pants. One foot first. Always the same foot first: that became clear right away. I assure you: you’re always putting on one leg of your pants first. The same leg.
I’ve been doing this for over 60 years. Always the same leg. Every day, putting on my underwear, my pants, my socks. Taking off my socks, my pants, my underwear. Always lifting one foot first. So, six times a day at least. You can calculate how many times I did that same thing, without knowing it, during my lifetime.
OK, so I started paying attention. Always the right foot first, in my case. So I changed it. Left foot first. Simple, right?
The challenge is to remember. To take a habit out of automatic pilot and into your awareness you must remember to do it, each time. I have developed that skill through years of Feldenkrais practice. I found out that I can remember to turn on my awareness just before the automatic pilot switches on. That’s how we create choice. That’s how we become freer.
Now, a couple of months later, I know which foot I lift first. I really do, each time. It doesn't take a lot of brain resources, it’s simply not as automatic as it was. And I play with it: sometimes the left foot, sometimes the right foot. I’ll keep playing with it for as long as I find it interesting.
I’m not recommending you should do the same. It is totally silly, I know. Who cares which way I get dressed and undressed, you might say, as long as I get it done? You’re right, of course. It has no importance in itself.
But I’m a Feldenkrais practitioner. I like fiddling with my brain and seeing what I can do with it. I like to know that I can change a deeply ingrained habit if I choose to. That’s exactly what I did in this experiment. I’ve created choice where there wasn’t any. I have become free where I had no freedom.
And this is applicable to anything in my life. I need my habits, and I need to be able to change them. And I know I can.
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Can you think of any habit you'd like to change? Modify? Improve? Eliminate?
I bet you can.
Persistent Growth does just that. And all it takes is three minutes a day.
Dedicate three minutes a day to move mindfully and you can start changing your life. Want some samples of how it is done? Sign up to get some free 3-minute session: Persistent Growth.