How Habits Affect Our Functioning

by Marian Goldberg

How do habits develop? We can see how habits develop by observing the movements of a child. Babies are usually born with an overall fundamental pattern of coordination “programmed” into their nervous systems. This primary pattern works efficiently and easily with the human structure. An example of this natural efficiency of the human mechanism can be seen with a baby who spontaneously sits up by himself. Generally, a baby of 12 months sits very upright naturally. In fact, it is far easier and more natural for a baby to sit upright than for the typical adult who slouches into a supposedly “relaxed” movement/postural pattern. As a child grows, he usually starts to imitate the mannerisms of those around him, such as parents, peers, and teachers. These “imitations” often become permanent and the child will probably lose any conscious awareness that he is doing them.The child may also experience injuries or other uncomfortable experiences which lead to fixed, inefficient habits. These habits can become a constant interference with his natural fundamental coordination. This on-going interference can affect how his muscles develop, how he moves, how he breathes, and how his alignment and posture develop. Most importantly, the child’s (and adult’s) senses of movement (kinesthetic sense) and balance can become skewed by relying on long-term, fixed habits. These senses are then unable to function as reliable guides for efficient coordination. Though the child or adult may eventually sense that something is wrong with his movement, posture, or other aspects of his functioning, his senses involved in coordination (proprioception) have become so altered by his habits that he finds he can’t rely on these senses when he tries to make changes and improvements. The on-going interference of his habits may be causing him excessive and constant stress but the child or adult finds it difficult to “stop” his habits because they feel familiar and “right” to him.

Maladaptive habits alter our general sensory feedback.They alter our perceptions of what feels “right”: These altered perceptions and concomitant feelings affect everything we do which involves our coordination. And all activities, whether “physical” or “mental,” involve coordination, or the way we use ourselves.