"We live our lives from A-Z, but forget the other 24 letters in between." - Timothy Leary


Why all habits are bad for you in the long run.
by Will

My teachers have often mentioned that students should get into "good habits", such as always watching the teacher and answering questions in full sentences. My middle school teachers generally tried to teach us "good habits" by requiring that we, for example, take very detailed notes on the textbook for history and science classes and show all work in math class. You already realize that the material in these textbooks is boring, lacking, biased and sometimes wrong and that the habits that they are trying to teach you are not very helpful. There are some habits that school tries to teach you that seem good, like writing down all your assignments in an assignment pad every day.

But, if you know anything about the Alexander Technique, developed by FM Alexander, you'll know that all habits are bad. In case you don't want to read those entire Wikipedia article, just read these excerpts:

[In] prehistoric times we were well served by instinctive or habitual control of our actions. Change was always at a slow pace and we had plenty of time to adapt to any new situations. In the modern world the pace of change is much faster (even around the turn of the century - how much more so now). Our habitual control is no longer adequate, and more often leads us astray into patterns of use that are harmful, causing disease and deformity. All forms of physical culture utilising our habitual guidance only serve to accentuate this effect. Alexander argues that the sub-conscious is merely the complete set of habits.

Alexander Technique teachers believe that humans have a built-in proprioceptive blind spot: people become habituated to repeating any response. Repetitious circumstances lead people to create habits as they adapt to circumstances. These habits contain both deliberate and non-deliberate responses that include physical movement patterns, as well as coping and learning strategies.

Adapting has a further serious drawback: habits diminish sensation. Using the habit decreases the importance of paying attention to slight perceptual differences. Sensory systems can flood from accommodating too many contradicting habits and intentions. From disuse or flooding, perceptual sensitivity shuts down and eventually becomes dull and untrustworthy, just as skin becomes numb if the same spot is repeatedly rubbed. Loss of perceptual awareness encourages mistaken interpretations for the need to choose a particular response. In a panic, all opposing habits can fire off at once, pulling in all directions, sometimes without the person noticing it has happened.

The habits addressed in the Alexander Technique are postural habits--contracting one's shoulder muscles unnecessarily, bending using one's vertebral column, which does not have hinge joints, rather than actual hinge joints, standing asymmetrically, etc., but this idea should still apply to other habits.

I don't think that any of my teachers have mentioned bad habits. They have to teach you "good habits" not because you are naturally lazy, but because school is boring and they need to dull the pain. Aside from procrastination (I'll discuss this later on.), which I think is a bit different from normal habits, I can't think of any "bad habits" related to school other than chewing on pencils. Either that, or they have to teach you "good habits" so you can do well in higher schools when the work is so boring that you will not be able to do it if you are not habituated to it.

Why they say you should create "good habits":

  • You don't really need to take notes on everything you read in middle school or high school to learn it. It's probably somewhat useful so you can quickly review it all the boring stuff that you've forgotten (because you haven't needed to know it) for a final exam. I'm still in high school, so I'm not too sure about how boring the work is in college, but I assume it's more detailed and presented in just as boring a manner. This habit would be easier to memorize and review all the boring stuff you learn in college for the exam.
  • By answering textbook questions in full sentences that include the question, you can review without using the textbook. (You also get credit for your homework if your teacher requires that you answer in this manner.) Other than this, I don't see many benefits to this habit. If for some reason you are asked a question and have to record both the question and answer, can't you just copy the question?

Fortunately, I don't think I've picked up too many of these habits.

About procrastination: It is harder to overcome than most habits. Read this.

Some of the "good habits" they try to teach you are probably helpful for getting good grades in school. You can follow them, but don't let them become habits. Pay attention to when you're doing them and when you could do something better. Also, figure out what your habits are and try to break the habits. You can still perform the actions if you need to, but make sure that you are voluntarily performing them rather than performing them out of habit.

Written by: Will
1 April 2007

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