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.





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