What are they?
Pavlovian responses. Muscle memory. Repetitions.
Why do we care?
Sometimes they are useful and we lovingly refer to them as rituals. And sometimes they are not useful and we still lovingly or not so lovingly carry them along with us in a little red wagon we trail behind us everywhere we go… (they have a designated place alongside our issues…). They can get in the way of relationships to yourself and with others, they can create the perception of distance between where you are and where you want to be, and they can literally distort your body.
What's to be done about this?
Quick answer - do something different. Long answer - first be willing to see the habit. Then determine why you have it, in order to figure out if it’s useful and effective for you. And finally, when the habit shows up, consciously choose something different.
Let’s walk through this.
In acting, there is something called a trigger. It’s an unconscious emotional, physical or verbal response that results from a particular circumstance. Actors find these useful when looking to create a believable character and to justify actions & responses that happen in the script. It helps us understand how to replicate human behavior.
In daily living, there are innumerable triggers… things we see or hear or do that may send up a wave of unexpected emotion that’s actually based on the far or not-so-distant past rather than the present moment. These triggers are feeding grounds for habits…
For example… here’s one of my triggers.
When any older man repeats himself during a conversation in which he and I hold opposing views on pretty much anything.
Any. Older. Man... Anything…
My habit is to dig in my heels, grow my energy to 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide, over-articulate, and slow my language.
It’s a sight to behold.
I know why it happens. I was the only girl in the family, with an older brother… There was a habit of the family patriarchs to repeat themselves and say, “I don’t think you understand.” when teaching a lesson or attempting to mute me because I was expressing unsubstantiated wild opinion or aberrant thought…
It took me until the age of 30 to realize this was habit rather than strength of character. Once I admitted this, and that my response wasn’t ultimately effective in a way that I actually felt good about, I opted to swap it out.
Much better. No stress on the body. Stronger relationships. More lasting outcomes.
It’s empowering to know you can change something by simply making another choice.