I have a friend, Olof Ehrensvaerd, a Swede by birth, who yet, by reason of a strange and melancholy mischance of his early boyhood, has thrown his lot with that of the New World. It is a curious story of a headstrong boy and a proud and re... Read more of The Dead Valley at Scary Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
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Habit





Few people realize how powerful a factor for physical, as well as
moral, good and evil is habit. The old expression that habit is second
nature is amply illustrated in the most familiar experiences. The
child, unable at the beginning to make any but the most ill-directed
movements, learns during its first two years to make the most complex
co-ordinated movements--first with difficulty, then with ease, and
finally with such facility that there is no need for it to pay any but
the most perfunctory attention to their execution. Walking requires
the co-ordination of a large number of muscles so that the absolute
position of every muscle in both the legs and in the trunk, at least
as far as the shoulders, must be definitely known and their activity
properly directed. Perhaps nothing brings out more clearly the
difficulty of walking, though it depends on only one factor, the
co-ordination of the two sides of the body, than the story of the
Italian Tozzi twins. They were born with two heads and shoulders and
with only one pair of legs. It was found that each head ruled the leg
on its own side of the body. It was impossible for the creatures to
walk. They lived to adolescent life, yet never succeeded in walking.
The intimate association of the lower parts of their trunk and the
long years of companionship of their brains, did not enable them to
accomplish what seems to us so commonplace a co-ordination of movement
as walking.


Formation of Habits.--The co-ordination of the two limbs is after all
only a small portion of walking. The body must be held erect, the
curve of the spine must be managed so that the center of gravity
is kept well within the base, and gluteal and femoral and calf muscles
must all be co-ordinated with one another. In a few months a child
learns to do all this, and in a couple of years it executes all the
co-ordinate motions with such certainty that walking becomes not only
an easy matter but an absolutely unconscious accomplishment that can
be carried on while the mind is occupied with something else or while
it becomes so abstracted that surrounding objects are not noticed.

A far more difficult co-ordination is required for talking. It is only
when we analyze how nicely adjusted must be every movement, in order
to pronounce consonants and vowels properly and to combine them in
various ways, that we realize how complex is the mechanism of talking.
A difference of a hundredth of an inch in the movement of the tongue,
or less than that in the movements of various muscles of the larynx,
makes all the differences between clear articulation and a defect of
speech. In the course of the years up to seven, the child learns this
wonderful co-ordination apparently without difficulty, but really at
the cost of constant well-directed effort. There is no time in human
existence when the child really learns so much as during the first
four years of its existence, even if it learns nothing else except to
walk and to talk. The foolishness of obtruding other things,
information and study of various kinds, on the child's attention at
this time should be manifest.


Unconscious Regulation of Muscles.--What is thus prefigured in early
life invades every activity in later years. The boy who learns to ride
a bicycle must at first devote all his attention to it, but after a
while rides it quite unconsciously, his muscles having learned by
habit to accommodate themselves automatically to all the varying
positions of his machine. Anything well learned by habit is never
forgotten. How hard it is to learn to swim, yet, after years away from
the practice of it, the art comes back at once. The same is true of
skating, and of the nice adjustments of muscles required in various
games. Such is the influence of habit in forming a second nature. It
is no wonder that Reid, the Scotch philosopher, should have written:

As without instinct the infant could not live to become a man, so
without habit man would remain an infant through life, and would be
as helpless, as unhandy, as speechless, and as much a child in
understanding at threescore as at three.

Commenting on this Prof. J. P. Gordy, in his
"New Psychology," [Footnote 26] says:

[Footnote 26: "New Psychology," by J. P. Gordy, New York, 1898.]

Strong as this statement seems, it is probably an understatement of
the truth. Without habit, we should rather say, a man would be as
helpless, as speechless, as unhandy at three-score as at birth.
Habit is the architect that builds the feeble rudimentary powers of
the child into the strong, developed powers of the full-grown man.
If a child's vague, purposeless movements give place to definite
movements performed for definite purposes, if his sensations become
more definite, if his perceptions become clearer, if his memory
becomes more accurate, if he reasons more and more correctly and
logically, it is because of habit.


Law of Habit.--The law of habit is that every time we perform any
action, mental or physical, or allow ourselves to be affected in any
way, we have more proneness to, and greater facility in the
performance of that action or in experiencing that affection
under similar circumstances, than we had before. In the chapter on
Tics, I call attention to the fact that all the curious gestures by
which we are individualized, are due to the law of habit. It is
infinitely amusing to watch a group of people and note the endlessly
different habits of which they have become the victims. There are
tricks of speech and tricks of gesture eminently characteristic and
often quite laughably individualistic. We imitate, especially those of
whom we think much. Sometimes it is only when a father's attention is
called to them in his sons that he realizes the ludicrousness, or at
least laughableness, of some of the things he does, and he proceeds to
correct both generations of their faults.





Next: Physical Habits

Previous: Diversion Of Mind Hobbies



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