Law Of Habit
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
The law of habit is to repeat a customary act until it becomes an involuntary, settled principle of action. In the beginning, it is a force easily capable of being measured and guided in the end, it becomes an irresistible force, that sweeps everything before it. We perform a piece of work in a certain way, which seems easiest and best. In doing the same work a second time, we naturally fall into the same method. The result is at last a propensity, involuntary and back of any thought or purpose. The habit is created by the repetition of unnumbered little acts, all bearing the same way and tending to the same end. This inward impulse, to go on doing the same thing in the same way, is like an instinct in its spontaneity. Both prompt to action without antecedent thought, both are unconsciously obeyed. One, however, is implanted by the Creator, the other is wholly acquired. Our instincts are what God has been pleased to give us, as the heritage of nature. Our habits are what we have been pleased to do for ourselves by way of education. Instinct is the gift of the Creator, habit an acquisition of e Creature. The wonderful dexterity and adroitness of skilled artisans are due to the power of habit. Exquisite work in art is nothing more than a trained hand carrying into execution with brush and pencil the sub-lime thoughts of the artist. The musician who learns to use his fingers so deftly upon the key-board, and, at the same time, reads the scores of difficult music before him, could never accomplish such a feat, were it not for the power of habit. If he were obliged to exercise the same effort, in kind, in the symphony that he does in the exercise, his brain would break down in delirium. If he were obliged to deliberate upon the changes in tone and harmony, the day would not suffice for the task. It is only the habit formed in the exercise, that enables him to execute the studies of the masters at all. Dexterity, skill, rapidity of action, all the exquisite touches and fine effects of the musician are dependent upon the law of habit. Power is accumulated by slow processes and, in time, blossoms forth into those performances that win the admiration and praise of all who hear them.
So too the brilliant logic of Demosthenes and the thundering periods of Cicero were the result of habits acquired by education and practice. Demosthenes was hissed from the Bema, and practiced for years before he dared trust his powers again before the Athenian populace ; but when, with habits of speech and thought fully formed, he came at last to speak to his country-men, he thrilled them as they had never been thrilled before. And no doubt the great Athenian owes his high place among the orators to that first failure, that sent him to a cave by the sea to school his powers of utterance, to their highest degree of perfection. Other-e he might have been a fifth rate man among that nation of intellectual giants. Cicero cultivated no less assiduously the art of public speech. He studied under the best masters and practiced long, before he gave utterance to those great orations that have made his name so justly famous. Who that has written much or spoken in public does not find the same thoughts returning to him again and again struggling for expression ? And does he not also find the same words trooping back until he becomes disgusted with his hackneyed phrases? Thus men give expression to their thoughts, sometimes over and over again, until their minds seem to run from every point of departure into the same old rut and they become hobby-riders. Thus men become fanatics, cranks, and noisy agitators by allowing their thought and speech to run forever in the same groove until both are bound by the law of habit. Every good cause and sensible reform suffers immeasurably from the ill-advised words of habitual cranks and unreasoning fanatics. To them, habit is stronger than reason, and their particular hobby the greatest enterprise beneath the stars.
The great object of life is to watch over and give the right direction to this motive force of life. Look at it as we will, life is made up of little Things, and the great business of our existence is not to be sweeping the skies with a telescope, but to be looking at the little things about us with the microscope. The ability to do large work, depends upon the habit of small deeds already accomplished. To be great in mind, great in thought, great in life, we must be content to . master with patience the mass of details that make u greatness. We must travel along the road of simple processes until the accumulations of habitual actions will enable us to cope with great difficulties. In the words of the Master, we are told, that there must be line upon line, precept upon precept, with here a little and there a little ; and we learn from his life, that he, who is faithful in that which is greatest, is also faithful in that which is least.