Habituation, the enemy that is closer than we like to admit
Thu, Nov 15 2012 10:50 | Aliveness, Change, Comfort, Discomfort, Fitness, Freedom, Habituation, Pleasure, Strength To Awaken, Strength Training
A few weeks ago I was visiting my parents discussing how my book is landing with their congregation and friends. My mom said to me, "one question I've gotten a few times is, What is habituation?" Considering I mention "habituation" or "habituated" over 160 times throughout a 263 page book, this question is a big deal.
Here's how I define it: "habituation is at its essence an automatic response."
I continue on to say, "It's opposite is the conscious presence and agency for intentional action. Habituation has two sides. On the one hand some of your automatic conditioned responsiveness is absolutely necessary for your fluid functioning in life. On the other hand some of the automated responses deteriorate your conscious presence and erode your capacity to intentionally direct your life."
I spend so much time exploring habituation for a few reasons.
1) Habits stand squarely in between you and the change your heart genuinely desires.
2) Some of the most entrenched habits you possess are organized around how you move & don't move.
Interestingly, I have not seen books on fitness or strength training that adequately address how to work with the immensity of habituation (yet another reason why I wrote Strength To Awaken).
3) As those of you who have read part one of Strength To Awaken know, some of the root habits your conventional self uses to define itself are organized and structured to keep you from the happiness you simultaneously desire. That's right, these habituated attempts at happiness actually wall you off from true happiness.
So, if you want heartfelt change that matters to you, if you are interested in embodying these changes in a full way throughout the movements of your life, and if you're interested in happiness then habituation is something to investigate with rigor, right now.
Some habits support. Notice that the fluidity you may feel as you walk has a lot to do with habituation. There's a plethora of neurophysiological processes that make you proficient in walking. It took you years to master this. This is just one example of how habits can support higher level functioning. To a certain extent, we need habits.
Yet, some habits inhibit, close down, and collapse your conscious presence, ability for autonomous functioning and capacity for adaptation. For example, you may waste energy as you hold unnecessary tension in your shoulders, hips, back and legs. This chronic tension rigidifies your body and mind in both subtle and not so subtle ways. This habituation may stem from a neuro-psychological defense pattern established early on in life.
One massive habituation, one of the most pervasive enemies that you, me and most of our friends, family and colleagues keep too close, is the habituated preference for comfort. Sometimes your habituated strategies to be comfortable are completely harmless and should be celebrated. Other times, though, these unconscious strategies steal your larger capacities as a human being.
When you withdraw from life - whether that be in your training, relationships, and/or professionally, because of some uncomfortable experience - you may be stepping back from the life you are more deeply called to be living. This is where comfort stands in distinct opposition to one of your life's greatest pleasures: living your purpose.
Next time you see your habituated preference moving you toward the most comfortable route, evaluate it. Do not blindly follow and trust your automatic responses to be comfortable. Pause, feel into the discomfort, and assess whether going through the discomfort may be of service to your larger purpose in life.
Regardless of what you discover, freeing yourself up from habituation strengthens you psychologically. Every time you see your habits (and thus are not identified as them) your self gets bigger (more inclusive), more flexible, and more capable. Liberating yourself from the comfort habit enables you to trade in for greater aliveness. Does this greater aliveness have more pain? Often times it does, and it also comes with greater multifaceted pleasure as well.