“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
What is a habit?
A habit is any behavior that we do on a frequent and consistent basis.
The only way to build new habits is through conscious repetition and practice. As we repeat behaviors more and more, they become more ingrained into our brain and muscle memory, and thus begin to become second-nature to us. Once a habit is fully learned, a lot of it becomes unconscious to us and therefore takes up a lot less physical and mental energy.
Take “tying your shoes” as a simple example. When you were a kid, you probably needed to really concentrate and practice before you could get it right. You probably struggled at first. You probably made a lot of mistakes. You may have even gotten frustrated and upset a couple of times. Today, however, you have a whole of practice and experience with tying your shoes – so now you can do it without thinking about it at all.
Most habits work the same way. When we first learn them, we have to devote a lot of our attention and energy until we get them right. This is why it is often advised that you focus on building one new habit at a time.
Psychologists use a procedure called “The Rubber Hand Illusion” to challenge an individual’s sense of body ownership. A recently published study showed that schizophrenics – who already exhibit a weak sense of self – experienced the illusion to a greater degree than healthy controls.
Other research suggests that focused physical exercise can help improve body ownership and thereby alleviate some symptoms of schizophrenia.
Body Ownership and “The Rubber Hand Illusion”
In the “The Rubber Hand Illusion,” participants begin to perceive a rubber hand as if it was a part of their own body. The experiment is fairly simple, but it can have some wild effects.
Researchers hide one of your hands behind a small sheet and then put a rubber hand into view. They then stroke a paintbrush along both your real hand (the one that’s hidden), and the rubber one.
What happens among two thirds of healthy participants is that they begin to perceive that the sensations of the paintbrush are actually coming from the rubber hand, not their real one. When participants are then asked to close their eyes and point toward their real hand, many will point closer toward the rubber one instead.
The “Rubber Hand Illusion” is a play on vision, touch, and body posture (proprioception). Often the stronger the effect, the less someone has a true sense of “body ownership.” To get a better idea on how the experiment works, you can check out a video of the illusion below:
Schizophrenia and “The Rubber Hand Illusion”
Those with schizophrenia are already known to have a poor concept of self, a big part of which includes their sense of “body ownership.”
In a recently reported study, schizophrenics were shown to have a much more heightened effect when undergoing this “Rubber Hand Illusion.” When asked to point toward their real hand, schizophrenics pointed significantly closer to the rubber one than their real one when compared to healthy controls. One participant in the study even reported floating completely above their body for about 15 minutes – a very rare case of an “out of body experience” (OBE) being spontaneously produced in the laboratory.
These findings fit perfectly with the already existing theory that those with schizophrenia have a weaker sense of self and body ownership.
The Importance of Physical Exercise for Schizophrenics
Previous research has shown that physical exercise can help reduce symptoms of schizophrenia (see here and here).
This is because physical exercise, especially focused activities like yoga and dance, can help improve an individual’s body awareness and body ownership.
Of course, this doesn’t mean exercise is a cure-all for schizophrenia, but there is some strong evidence that it is a supplementary treatment worth trying out. Even just 20 minutes a day for 3 weeks can lead to some noticeable improvements.
Empathy is the ability to recognize thoughts and feelings within another conscious being. It is a mental capacity in which we can understand the inner world of others – their beliefs, emotions, intentions, values, goals, and personal experience.
With empathy not only comes the understanding that other beings have thoughts and emotions, but also that these thoughts and emotions may differ greatly from our own. This makes empathy a crucial tool for understanding other people and getting along with them.
Psychologists distinguish two main components of empathy: cognitive empathy (knowing another person’s thoughts and beliefs) and affective empathy (knowing another person’s feelings and emotions).
The degree of empathy we have for others can be found on a spectrum. At lower ends, empathy only requires that we are aware of other people’s thoughts and feelings. But at higher ends of the spectrum, empathy may include actually experiencing one’s situation as if it was our own.