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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Short Cuts in the Mind

I'm continuing with the topic of habits, since there is a close correlation between habits and addiction.  People who develop bad habits can later become addicted to their habitual activity.

This is in large part because both activities allow the will enter into an 'automatic' activity.  Addicts often describe a trance-like state they enter into while engaging in the habit, as they go through ritual motions which take them through the addiction.  habitual activities are often done automatically, like a 'muscle-memory' reflex that can often surprise us in its speed and how effortlessly it is achieved.

Therefore, the most dangerous habits are the subtle ones.  We now have a whole modern science devoted to studying human behavior and looking for 'tells' that indicate whether someone is lying or not.  Paul Ekman has pioneered this field in recent years.

Essentially, we all have small habits that change based on our contexts and perceived comfort/discomfort.

A habit is a short-cut, a way for us to response quickly and without exerting much effort to regular situations.  There are lots of short cuts.  We even take them in the Church.  For example, when we say, "Most Holy Theotokos, save us" we do not mean that she is the Savior.  Rather we mean, "Help us through thy intercessions to thy Son, with whom thou hast a profound relationship and motherly affection!"  Of course, that's a mouthful.  We even say "Lord, have mercy" to mean any number of things.

Short-cuts are not bad, but we must understand what we are doing.  And, we must make sure we are not falling into a habit that is not appropriate for the situation in which we find ourselves when the habit is initiated.

Habits can be good, but they must be done with awareness.  We must be vigilant and keenly aware of our surroundings and, most especially, our own perceptions regarding whether we are in a place that is comfortable or threatening.

What does that mean?  In a simple way, it is this: am I comfortable with my surroundings?  When I am comfortable, it usually means that I can predict what will happen and engage in more habits, which in turn means less stress on the mind.

This is why a child, when taken from an abusive home and put in a loving, caring, home, will often act out and even run back to the dysfunctional home.  The pleasant surroundings are totally alien, and the child's mind overloads.  He can't cope with all the new surroundings that don't line up with his habits.  he can't ignore them.  Whereas, adults are better at 'tuning out' their surroundings and engaging in habits even though their surroundings are a poor fit to what they are doing.

Here is the addict: one who has mostly tuned out reality and how he may fit into the real world around him.  His short-cuts have cut him off from other people and the world.  He is 'all habit' and no perception.  

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