Bad habit as part of self-identity.
Oscar Wilde once remarked that “But then one regrets the loss even of one's worst habits. Perhaps one regrets them the most. They are such an essential part of one's personality”. (The Picture of Dorian Gray). Many of our deeds are related to the way we perceive ourselves, to our self-perception. A habit changes into a long-term habit, when it becomes a part of the self-recognition. It does so when we start to perceive a habit as a part of our psychological personality. Usually we consider our personality a stable structure but it is not always like this. Before we start to speak about psychological self-identification let’s see how it works at the body level.
|Bad habit as part of self-identity.|
The simplest and most obvious way to see how the brain starts to consider external objects the parts of it, is to check the body ownership. The body ownership is a brain-designed virtual perception of the body that can include some external objects. The most famous and simplest home-made experiment is the rubber-hand illusion. You must take a participant, place a rubber hand in full view of them (you can use a glove stuffed with cotton and a sleeve), and the real hand is parallel to the rubber one but is hidden behind a screen. Start touching both hands by the same brushes synchronously. Gradually, a participant experiences that the rubber hand begins to feel touches, as if it has become a part of their body.
This is not hypnosis: the physiological parameters also change; the skin conductance response changes when a rubber hand is injured and the temperature of a real hidden hand drops (loss of ownership). (Ehrsson H. The concept of body ownership and its relation to multisensory integration. - 2012.). Our brain can consider the external objects as the body parts: a tennis racket, a computer mouse, skates; and the experienced drivers' brains include the entire car into their body ownership, so they can feel the centimeters of the car’s trajectory. Skill literally expands the boundaries of our body.
If someone hits a rubber hand, the indicators of person’s stress will go off scale. And this is natural, because this hand is considered already as a part of the body. The same thing happens when a person faces the information that contradicts their self-representation. The study examined the different sets of beliefs, political and non-political. It turned out that political beliefs and views were deeply associated with human identity. Challenges to political beliefs made the brain regard these abstract ideas as a threat to physical existence and triggered a powerful stress response.
As soon as a person is faced the possibility that their beliefs may not be true, they begin to act reflex and aggressively. An idea may be a part of our psychological self-recognition. Usual topics can easily be politicized and become a part of faith. With the help of propaganda and implanting, the usual neutral facts, such as, the climate change can easily be transferred to the area of vigorous defense, which makes their rational discussion impossible. (Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence Scientific Reports volume 6, Article number: 39589 (2016))
What does this mean applied for habits? We can perceive our bad habits as part of our personality. We regard all attempts to get rid of bad habits as attacks on our personality, as the infringement against our sovereignty, and the cause not to have something essential. Therefore, our comprehension of a bad habit or carving as something inflicted and extrinsic is crucial. When Alan Carr helps to get rid of smoking he does it brightly and colorful, visualizing it as a monster sitting in the brain. Without defining a boundary, fighting a bad habit will be meaningless. It is important to determine your identity: I am the one who eats healthy food, I am the one who likes movement, I am the one who loves mental purity and does not clog the brain with informational garbage, and so on. My habits are not the same as me. The practice of mindfulness easily helps to see this.
But in the case of good habits, self-identity is even more important than the goal: to learn how to enjoy movement or sleep is more useful than to lose 5 kg by spring. Habits based on identity and personal values are associated with better self-integration, higher self-esteem and can be kept in the long run. (Front. Psychol. Front Psychol. 2019; 10: 1504. Habit and Identity: Behavioral, Cognitive, Affective, and Motivational Facets of an Integrated Self)