Rules For Habit-forming
JAMES'S THREE MAXIMS FOR HABIT-FORMING.--On the forming of new habits
and the leaving off of old ones, I know of no better statement than that
of James, based on Bain's chapter on Moral Habits. I quote this
statement at some length: In the acquisition of a new habit, or the
leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with
as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the
possible circumstances which shall reenforce right motives; put yourself
assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements
incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in
short, develop your resolution with every aid you know. This will give
your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down
will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which
a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at
The second maxim is: Never suffer an exception to occur until the new
habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like letting fall
a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes
more than a great many turns will wind again. Continuity of training
is the great means of making the nervous system act infallibly right....
The need of securing success nerves one to future vigor.
A third maxim may be added to the preceding pair: Seize the very first
possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every
emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits
you aspire to gain. It is not in the moment of their forming, but in
the moment of their producing motor effects, that resolves and
aspirations communicate the new 'set' to the brain.
THE PREPONDERANCE OF GOOD HABITS OVER BAD.--And finally, let no one be
disturbed or afraid because in a little time you become a walking
bundle of habits. For in so far as your good actions predominate over
your bad ones, that much will your good habits outweigh your bad habits.
Silently, moment by moment, efficiency is growing out of all worthy acts
well done. Every bit of heroic self-sacrifice, every battle fought and
won, every good deed performed, is being irradicably credited to you in
your nervous system, and will finally add its mite toward achieving the
success of your ambitions.
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