I have been thinking about habits a lot recently – so many bad things I do in Tango are habituated – I just do them without thinking. It seems crushingly hard to bring them fully back into my conscious mind so I can break them down, and either change or remove them.
So I was fascinated to read extracts from an interview with Naval Ravikant, a polymath. Some relevant quotes :
I think human beings are entirely creatures of habit. Young children are born with no habit loops. They’re essentially born as blank slates. Then they habituate themselves to things and they learn patterns and they get conditioned and they use that to get through everyday life. Habits are good. Habits can allow you to background process certain things so that your neocortex, your frontal lobe, stays available to solve brand new problems.
You absolutely need habits to function. You cannot solve every problem in life as if it is the first time it’s thrown at you. What we do is we accumulate all these habits. We put them in the bundle of identity, ego, ourselves, and then we get attached to that.
I’ve definitely broken habits completely. I think you can uncondition yourself. You can untrain yourself. It’s just hard. It takes work. It takes effort. Usually the big habit changes comes when there’s strong desire-motivators attached to them.
I have often thought if I could just minimise the damage – still be a victim of the habit but just try to force myself as often as possible to override it – try to be conscious of it and cover it up in some way:
Suppression doesn’t work. When you try to suppress, that’s the mind suppressing the mind. That’s just you playing games with yourself. I think it’s a very hard problem.
So it seems that indeed to break down these habits is really tough – but to improve we have no choice. We have to be aware of them, be motivated to break them and learn new ones at the lower, physical level of the way we naturally move.
It seems even more challenging in dance because as soon as we start this we replace something that although incorrect at least felt easy and fluid with something that just paralyses us – no-one can dance Tango while solving so many problems intellectually. Precisely why we needed the habits in the first place.
But trying to outsmart our own body is just playing games with ourselves – and fools us with the fake havens of inorganic Tango, a lack of possibilities and the ultimately unsatisfying landscape of an intermediate dancer.
To move properly we have physically work so hard – there are no clever short cuts – we need an initial understanding from a mentor so we can understand the problem – a lot of motivation – and then a huge amount of repetitive work on solo exercises, posture – and if we are lucky enough the chance to work with practice partners who already get this..
Then, just maybe, we can change our habits – one at a time – replacing them with new ones that create a whole new level of movement, energy and possibilities.