A reflexive action is something done without conscious thought. We’ve all seen how a doctor tapping at a knee can cause the leg to jerk. Reflexive actions are a part of our everyday lives, from snatching our hand away from a hot pan to a baby sucking on a bottle. These are all things that happen without any thought being given as we are reacting to stimuli. These are basic biological reflex actions that are genetically encoded into our system. Some like the automatic sucking done by a baby are primitive reflexes that naturally disappear over time. Others such as flinching away from pain are ones that are deeply rooted into our survival system and harder to control.
We’ve heard the story of Pavlov and his dogs. By ringing a bell when the dogs were fed the dogs soon reacted to the bell as a sign of food by starting to salivate even if food were not present. A neutral stimuli (the bell) was able to be related to a biological stimuli (the food) to get the same response. For many of us we have the same conditioned response to stimuli without even realizing it. Sometimes the reaction is physical and sometimes it is mental or emotional. A certain song can be related to a emotional experience and bring back certain feelings or thoughts. A certain smell of food can bring back memories of a different time and place. Even the act of looking at old pictures and photographs can elicit a reflexive action. Going to a certain restaurant or even eating a certain type of food always brings back memories of my father who passed away several years ago.
Reflexes for desired actions are also something that we can train and program into ourselves. A baseball batter practices in order to reflexively identify the pitch and swing or not swing before he is mentally able to comprehend what is happening. In the case of the batter some natural reflexes are being suppressed while new reflexes are being nurtured. Continuous practice in almost any field helps to build reflexive actions. Even the act of typing becomes somewhat reflexive as each finger is able to find the proper keys without thought. I think of a word to type and my fingers are able to push the corresponding keys in the correct order (most of the time).
The very basic of reactive actions can be suppressed with enough training and willpower. When being hit our natural reaction is to flinch away with our eyes closed but boxers train themselves to keep their attention on their opponent. In many combat situations our natural reflex is to run away for self-preservation but the most successful military units train to keep their will to fight intact. Battles are not complete slaughters of one side, but are based on when the willpower of one side is broken until they retreat. If one side has no willpower to fight in the first place then they surrender.
Habits are an Extension of Reflex
We all have habits, some good and at least for myself most bad. Habits in the most basic form are conditioned reflexes. We relate certain neutral stimuli to elicit a response. As a smoker my body does crave nicotine, but there are also habitual reflexive times when I want to smoke. After I eat a meal I want a cigarette even if I had recently smoked. The physical addiction to nicotine is relatively short lived (one week), but most people who try to quit are unable to break their reflexive need for a cigarette. Most people I know who have quit smoking find drinking to be the hardest time as it lowers their inhibitions and smoking and drinking tended to go hand in hand for them.
Repetition of the same thought or physical action develops into a habit which, repeated frequently enough, becomes an automatic reflex.
Norman Vincent Peale
Habits tend to be a bit more complex than a quick reflexive action, but are formed in similar ways to conditioned reflexes. We slowly train ourselves to behave in a certain way, our routines are a method of getting through the day with as little thinking as possible. We don’t wake up in the morning needing to worry about the exact steps we’ll need to take to get ready for the day as we have already set up a morning routine, a chain of habits that will take us through it step by step.
Habits in a Relationship
The more time we spend with someone whether they be a coworker, friend, family member or romantic partner we tend to create co-habits. You become attuned with one another and can carry on complex tasks together without even having to say a single word. When people look at sports teams, they realize that it requires time for players to adjust to one another and have plays that are automatic, plays that seem to happen by reflex alone. In the NBA you’ll often see players that always seem to know where each other are at the court and are able to pass the ball to the perfect place at the perfect time even though there are dozens of factors at play. Even in a busy workplace like a restaurant kitchen if the staff has been working together for a while it will look like a choreographed dance to an outsider as each cook or chef is able to work together to get plates of food served together on time. Using and understanding co-habits everyone is able to create order out of chaos.
Unfortunately, just like there are individual bad habits there are bad co-habits in relationships. When you see a couple fight on a regular basis you can start to see a pattern of behavior from both parties. It doesn’t take too long to start being able to predict what will happen next as both sides are locked in a chain of reflexive responses to one another.
Many men and women in the world demonstrate great willpower and self-discipline in overcoming bad habits and the weaknesses of the flesh.
Ezra Taft Benson
Even with family or friends when things start to go downhill you can see a pattern of behavior which forms a causal chain that goes downhill. Most long-term relationships don’t end because of one fight or disagreement, but it simply reaches a point where they are worn down by having the same fight or disagreement over and over again without realizing that they can change. Just like any chain even removing a single link can break it. In most cases making that break as soon as possible is the best way as in every fight once things start moving emotions start snowballing further and further along.
If you’re having relationship problems with anyone and feel that you’re having the same talk, argument or discussion over and over again, stop and think about things through. In most cases you can even predict where things are going. I will say this and they will say that and my response will be this and so forth until we both are too angry and one of us storms off. If you don’t want to have the same talk and fight repeated endlessly you need to recognize the initial signs and redirect things to a different direction. Like any other reflex with enough time and effort it can be changed to something else.
Originally posted 2017-01-24 18:40:08.