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Shakespeare’s advice on how to cultivate better habits

In 2011 Kenneth Heaton, English physician and writer, began to carefully examine the main works of his compatriot William Shakespeare. The information obtained from this analysis was later useful for compiling a complete catalog of diseases or ailments caused by stress and violent emotions. Many characters in Shakespeare’s works, think of King Lear or Il Mercante di Venezia, would indeed be victims of psychosomatic disorders such as extreme sensitivity to pain, mental confusion or apathy.

In the pages of Hamlet, Heaton points out, you can recognize the presence of fatigue and tiredness strictly connected to the persistence of pain and / or discomfort conditions. In the same work, however, it is also possible to recognize useful suggestions to avoid the risk that certain situations may affect our mental well-being. The key, Shakespeare suggests, would be to correct our worst mental “patterns”. To do this it can help to cultivate a routine that, if based on a series of good habits, would be able to bring concrete benefits. This simple concept, which will then be one of the precepts at the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy, is effectively explained, in the space of only eleven verses, by the “Bard of England”. In scene four of the third act of Hamlet, the character who gives the work its name in fact says to the mother: “Take on yourself a virtue if you really don’t have it: habit. This monster that devours us senses, devil of customs, in this he is an angel who, when practicing honest and pure acts, provides a uniform, a livery that adapts easily to us. Abstinence, at least tonight; this will make the next, and even more the following, more tolerable: habit can almost change the imprint given us by nature, bend the devil, or chase him away completely, with wonderful strength. “

Having good habits proves fundamental, especially in light of the fact that many of the actions we perform daily are actually the result of a routine. In a 2006 study, David T. Neal, Wendy Wood and Jeffrey M. Quinn, three faculty members from the University of Duke in North Carolina, showed that almost half of our daily behavior tends to be repeated every day. Bulk changing most of these habits would be extremely difficult and would not automatically guarantee lasting results. For this reason, in his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg recommends concentrating on what he calls “keystone habits”, the lintel-habits that can lead later to the development of other good ones. customs. A key habit is, for example, to sleep at least eight hours a night. Having more hours of sleep is in fact the basis for being able to take on other virtuous behaviors that it would be good to incorporate into our routine: sleeping more means having more energy to exercise every day but also being more lucid and ready to develop a more satisfying communication with those who is around us. By focusing on a single pattern we can therefore understand how to reprogram other habitual practices of our life.

In How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, the author of the comic strip Dilbert Scott Adams highlights how much our willpower assumes a fundamental role in creating a habit. On its own, the will represents a limited push destined to run out over time but, if exploited well in an initial phase, it can stimulate the development of routines capable of self-feeding in the long term: the habit of keeping in daily exercise sooner or later it makes willpower unnecessary because exercising becomes more automatic than not doing it. Habits are formed and leave a mark in the network of ganglia at the base of our brain. The basal ganglia are much stronger than the prefrontal cortex, i.e. that part of the brain responsible for making rational decisions. This, according to a group of Duke University researchers led by Dr. Justin O’Hare, would be the reason why the practices we repeat every day are so difficult to abandon. Since habits are so difficult to forget, it is worth having good ones, science tells us. A concept that in a few verses had already been well summarized centuries earlier by William Shakespeare.

Professor Philip Davis, together with colleagues Guillaume Thierry and Neil Roberts, had, moreover, already studied a few years ago the effects of reading the works of the great playwright on the human brain, coming to the conclusion that Shakespeare’s reading was a great autotherapy: ” Shylock and Juliet’s words are more useful than manuals. This is a serious language for serious human situations, instead of self-help books or easy readings that reinforce predictable opinions and conventional self-images. ” Might as well then follow the example of the protagonist of Bob Smith’s The Boy Who Loved Shakespeare: we too, like him, can improve our habits and our life by taking inspiration from the works of the greatest playwright ever.

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2 Comments

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    Waldo Jeancharles
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      Anfalidrissi
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