Habitually Authentic

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I think there is a sense in which our habits can be authentic. Our gait is quite individual — recognisably our own, and usually an authentic part of ourselves. Similarly, the way we use our voice is recognisably individual — and the habitual expressions and tones we have are authentically ourselves.

Authentic Responses

An authentic response comes from the core of who we are, responding to the situation as we see it. Responding to an old situation or in an old way is almost certainly not authentic. An authentic response will have a sense of freshness — the meeting of myself and this here-and-now.

An authentic response will be the result (or manifestation) or awareness. Pretending to be something other than we are is not authentic. Responding to something other than what we perceive will not be an authentic response.

Habitual Responses

Habits are quite stable through time. And they are done without much awareness — we program ourselves to respond automatically. I can still recite my times tables from primary school. I can do this ‘without thinking’ about each number being multiplied and what the quantities actually mean.

Habits respond to situations that are approximately standard. My way of walking along any particular street is usually pretty much the same. It is a habit; I do it usually without it occupying much of my attention. So my partner and I can go for a walk and talk as we go — we can focus on each other and forget about our walking.

Walking stops being habitual when the situation is no longer as usual. Walking along a bush track made uneven by rocks means that I now focus more of my attention on walking. And my partner and I will usually stop talking when we hit one of these uneven parts of a track.

As this example of walking in different terrain shows, a habit in one area of our life can assist awareness in another. A physical habit (like walking) can help a relationship (being able to talk with my partner).

Originally it took a great deal of attention over many months to develop the habit of walking. Gradually this habit has, for most of us most of the time, become a part of us.

Authentic Habits

I think there is a sense in which our habits can be authentic. Our gait is quite individual — recognisably our own, and usually an authentic part of ourselves. Similarly, the way we use our voice is recognisably individual — and the habitual expressions and tones we have are authentically ourselves.

Both our walk and our talk are made up of habit upon habit. We forget how much attention over how long a time it took to develop all the habits needed to be able to walk and talk. Spending some time around young children is an excellent reminder of how focused they can be on learning and mastering part of their environment (often focused to an extent that adults find quite tiring).

Sometimes habits do not match a new situation. In response to a slightly different greeting or farewell, I can find myself giving an habitual response that simply doesn’t match what the other person said. Habits can block awareness as well as serving it.

Developing Good Habits

What is the difference between habits that serve us and habits that impede awareness?

I think one part of the story is how they are developed. Children are supported in learning what they wish to, they are repeatedly shown what to do, they are corrected over and over again. They are given the time to do things in their own way, and they are rewarded for success. And the habits they develop are in relation to felt needs — they want to walk to move around more, they speak to ask for things and talk to others and so on.

This is quite different to rote memorisation of lists of facts.

Habitually Authentic?

It seems to me that habits can be an authentic part of an individual. What of the opposite? Can authenticity become a habit?

I don’t think it can. An authentic response is from where I am now in response to what is going on now.

However, I do think habits can assist us to respond authentically. The kinds of things I’m thinking of are habits like, “think before you speak”. Taking a few moments to pause can open a space for us to check in with ourselves and formulate an authentic response, rather than getting in to the same old argument. Taking time out or meditating at the same time each day can help us too.

In this way our response is not the habitual but we do make a habit of making the space and time needed for authenticity.

It seems to me that habits can be a valuable support to our individuality and to the living of an authentic life. However, I think this requires that our habits are developed in response to felt needs and our own goals and desires.

I would like to hear from you about how you have found habits in your own life. Have you found them liberating or imprisoning (perhaps both)? Have you found that habits can become a true part of you or have you found them to be alien (or perhaps both)? Looking forward to hearing from you.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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