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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

ircumstances 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.[3]


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.