Correction Of Other Habits
( Originally Published 1907 )
"IMPURE thought, despondent, hopeless, repining, fault finding, fretful, slanderous thought, is certain to make the blood impure and fill the system with disease. " So with certain habits of body consequent on such habits of thought, such as the habit of worry, the habit of laying undue stress on things not the most needful for the hour; the habit of trouble borrowing and many others, which permeate and influence every act of life. Their combined effect is exhaustion, and exhaustion is the real mother of most of the ills flesh is heir to." Prentice Mulford.
" We are continually denying," said Henry Ward Beecher, " that we have habits which we have been practising all our lives. Here is a man who has lived forty or fifty years ; and a chance shot sentence or word lances him and reveals to him a trait which he has always possessed, but which, until now, he had not the remotest idea that he possessed. For forty or fifty years he has been fooling himself about a matter as plain as the nose on his face."
We now take up certain habits not regarded as immoral.
Perhaps one such unconscious habit is that of slang. Some people are, indeed, slaves to the tyrant, " Correct Style." There is a golden mean. It is related of a college professor that his usual manner of speaking was so excessively elegant that he really obscured the natural scintillations of a bright mind; he was dull where a slight admixture of the " common parlance " would have imparted vivacity to his otherwise interesting conversation. He stands as a type of the few uncanny and " literary fellows."
One may indulge slightly in slang as an agreeable concession to a work-a-day world, but its habitual use indicates a want of self-control.
" The use of slang," said Dr. O. W. Holmes, "or cheap generic terms, as a substitute for differentiated specific expressions, is at once a sign and a cause of mental atrophy. It is the way in which a lazy adult shifts the trouble of finding any exact meaning in his (or her) conversation on the other party. If both talkers are indolent, all their talk lapses into the vague generalities of early childhood, with the disadvantage of a vulgar phraseology. It is a prevalent social vice of the time, as it has been of times that are past."
The habit may be destroyed by following the suggestions relating to profanity and garrulousness.
Remember that slang consisted originally of the " cant words used by thieves, peddlers, beggars, and the vagabond classes generally."
Cultivate the society of the best speech. " If you hear poor English and read poor English," said Richard Grant White, " you will pretty surely speak poor English and write poor English."
HESITATION OF SPEECH
It may be that the stammerer's ancestry could never get well quit of a clear statement. Many people can make no smooth headway through a simple utterance of fact or opinion. With real " stuttering" we have here nothing to do. Those who stammer, without rhyme or reason, are but themselves at fault. Perhaps the difficulty is due to a want of " steam " sufficient to force a clear expression of thought; some people do well when excited or angry, but in calm moments they make sad work of it. Perhaps, again, the trouble is owing to an amount of " steam " which they do not control: they speak smoothly when not disturbed, but excitement causes them to sputter like a fire-hose out of which water is failing. Persistent practice of the suggestions below ought to cure this difficulty, whatever its cause, except in case of physical deformity.
Régime 1. Recall some incident of your experience or observation occurring within the last twenty-four hours. Deliberately and rapidly recite, in an ordinary tone of voice, and as if speaking to some person, a connected account of the entire transaction. Speak as rapidly as possible. Do not permit yourself to pause an instant for want of a proper word; thrust in any word, as nearly right as may be, or even one having no related significance any word and go swiftly on to the end.
Régime 2. When you have begun a sentence, plunge straight through it to the close. Then proceed in the same manner with the next, and drive yourself to the finish of your account.
Régime 3. Now repeat the process, resolving to employ better language with each sentence; but do not pause an instant; force yourself to say what you desire in some way, no matter whether elegant or not.
Continue daily practice of these directions until your difficulty is overcome.
Régime 4. But meanwhile, one fault in your speech is this : you do not consciously think your thought in actual words. This you must learn to do. Recall, then, some subject of thought on which you have an opinion. Proceed, now, to state that opinion exactly to yourself and in an ordinary tone of voice. The exercise may be varied by pronouncing the words men-tally, but do not fall into that imbecile habit of moving the lips. Your opinion must be uttered rapidly, the Will compelling the thought to march on without hesitation, no matter what an occasional word may chance to be. You have two things to learn : to think exact thoughts in actual words; and to think them with the greatest speed.
Régime 5. It will assist you, now, if you will begin to write the opinion or account as swiftly as you can dash the pen across the page. Work here also with fierce energy, never pausing an instant, but always, when tempted to hesitate, writing the best word of which you can think — or throwing in a dash or any word coming to mind. When this is done, sentence after sentence, read the whole, and proceed to criticise and correct : then rewrite in a better manner but with all possible speed.
Régime 6. Commit to memory and keep in mind the following rules :
I will speak rapidly — or slowly, as required.
I will never stop for a word.
I will never pause to correct a word or a phrase.
I will never leave a sentence unfinished.
I will never turn back in a sentence.
I will use the best possible language.
I will not speak in two styles — one for common life, and one for uncommon occasions.
I will adopt a good style and always employ this.
I will not speak loosely, and I will not converse like a prig or a pedant.
I will be correct, yet simple ; elegant, yet unaffected.
Elsewhere, in Chapter XVIII, will be found other pertinent remarks on this fault. The importance of the topic cannot be overestimated, and it will therefore bear further suggestions.
The wandering mind is the thoughtless mind. Thought loves the highway ; notions climb the fences. Thoughts are trained hounds; fancies are puppies — off for every scent. It would weary the intellect of a Newton to follow the wanderings of a young dog. Wandering thoughts waste the brain and they get no " game." The uncontrolled brain is a fool's paradise. Nothing comes of the mind which cannot stick. The cure of mind-wandering is control by the Will. The practice here suggested will cure this senseless fault, and at the same time strengthen the Will itself.
Régime 1. In reading, always proceed slowly, until you have acquired the power of rapid comprehension. Select some good sentence for reading. Read it, slowly carefully, understanding every word. Ten notions have flitted across the field of thought. Resolve to keep that field clear. Read the sentence again, proceeding as before, and willing intensely to hold to its thought and nothing else. Continue to read that sentence until you can attend absolutely without a single failure to what it says. When you can read it, with nothing whatever save its own thought in mind, take your eyes from the page and repeat it the thought not the words in the best possible manner. Your mental action has now " wandered." Go back and read the sentence again, giving it exclusive attention ; then state in mental words its thought, holding your-self to complete absorption in the matter.
Régime 2. Continue the above exercise until you can confine the mind to that thought with not the shadow of another idea. Then proceed with further reading in exactly the same way. You will not make much progress at the start. Your habit is of long standing, and it will require great patience and per-severance to destroy it. But the thing can certainly be done. Remember ! For what are you reading at all? Really to read — genuinely, to think. Here are goals which are worth untiring labor and unlimited time. A page a day which the soul bores its way into is better than a book read carelessly in one hour.
Régime 3. When about to read, ask yourself : " Why am I to read this matter?" Find that out; then insist upon getting what you are after. Read the first sentence, and ask : "What did that sentence mean and say?" Read the sentence until you know and can tell the fact or truth in your own words. Proceed thus to the close of the first paragraph, and ask: "Exactly what does this paragraph declare?" Persist in reading the same paragraph until you can relate its thought. Continue these exercises to the complete mastery of thoughtful reading. You will find your mind wandering slowly vanishing.
Régime 4. While engaged in business or other matters, pause frequently to note what you are thinking about. You will meet with many surprises. Catch yourself indulging some train of fancy, and then ask: "Has this any value to me? Am I thinking out the matter in which I am physically engaged, or on which I set out, or am I merely running about in it like a puppy in a new field? " Keep the mind upon thoughts of value. They need not relate to death and the judgment; pleasant thoughts are not unlawful. Compel your mind to think, not only thoughts of value, but in a connected way as well. Stand guard over your own mind. Dispel every fleeting fancy and uncalled notion not germane to the thing in hand, as far as possible. Cultivate a reliable and purposeful intellect. Commit the following lines to memory, and make the verse a talisman against wandering thoughts :
A wandering mind is like a shooting star :
The majority of people talk too much, often saying nothing, or what is perhaps, the worse for themselves,/ uttering words which they afterwards wish had been left unsaid. There are others who are as uncommunicative as the oyster — and not always, when they open their mouths, does a pearl fall to your prize. In social life they are fallen logs, against which the stream of conversation dashes and from which it turns aside in sparkling agitation. In business they are enigmas, perennial objects of suspicion. They do not, as a rule, make many friends, although when they do, these stand by to the death.
The opposite class are numerous, and, because they talk too much, are objects of a fellow-feeling among men and are believed to be amenable to improvement. The following rules will cure garrulousness, if obeyed to the letter.
Régime 1. At the beginning of each day for, say, three months, run over in your mind all matters that are of vital importance to your social and business life. You will discover some things which you ought to keep to yourself. Make an iron-clad resolution to reveal them to no human being. Remember! Remember! Remember! When in conversation with others, recall that resolution. Remember! yes, remember!! If you fail during the day, remember! remember! and renew the resolution on the next day. Stand by it ! Carry it in mind every hour. In the evening review your success or failure, and saturate your thought with condemnation and with fiercer determination to reform. Do not yield until you can instantly repress any impulse to speak on any subject. In three months you will be master of your tongue.
Régime 2. You are using too many words at all times. This fault can be corrected. You must, in order to improvement, cultivate terseness of speech. Practise every day for a year the following. This is labor, but the result will amply repay you.
Régime 3. Think a fairly long statement concerning some object, person or event. You must deliberately think in words, making an intelligible sentence. Now write it out in full. We will call this statement " A." Repeat it, attending to your own voice. How does it sound? Is the sentence the best that you can make? If not, improve it. Now reduce it to its lowest possible terms as a clear, definite and complete statement. Write it on another sheet of paper. Repeat it, noting its sound. Then determine to cut it down one-third, or even one-half. Persevere until this is done. Write the result on a third sheet of paper. Now compare the three statements. Compute the per cent. of reduction. You will be astonished to observe the waste of breath and language in your ordinary conversation.
Régime 4. Resolve to carry out the idea of condensation in all your speech. In the course of a few months you will discover two things : first, your vocabulary will have become larger and better, because this effort requires the use of dictionaries and thoughtful practice with words; secondly, your manner of speaking will have become surprisingly condensed and intelligent.
Régime 5. Select, further, some author whose style is chaste and condensed. Read his works carefully, a little every day. Following the rules for memory, commit some of your author's best sentences and paragraphs. A small book which is a condensation of a larger one may be used in connection with the preceding suggestion. In time, this practice will, without any special effort on your part, greatly modify your general style of speech.
Regime 6. No one will affirm that Carlyle's tumultuous chaos of words is a finished globe of conventional economy in the matter of language ; but this Thunderer has thoughts and is recognized as a wizard with our mighty English. Read the following, therefore; cut it deeply into memory, and live in the atmosphere of its suggestion :
" The great silent men ! Looking around on the noisy inanity of the world, words with little meaning, actions with little worth, one loves to reflect on the great Empire of Silence. The noble, silent men, scattered here and there, each in his department ; silently thinking, silently working; whom no Morning News-paper makes mention of! They are the salt of the Earth. A country that has none or few of these is in a bad way. Like a forest which had no roots; which had all turned into leaves and boughs ;— which must soon wither and be no forest. Woe for us if we had nothing but what we can show or speak. Silence, the great Empire of SILENCE ; higher than the stars; deeper than the Kingdoms of Death! It alone is great; all else is small."
This is the habit which causes one to miss his train, forget his wife's message, send an important letter without signature, rush to keep an engagement an hour late, omit to carry his pocket-book to church, dress for an evening party without a necktie, leave the comb in her hair, and cry, when the house is afire : " Where is the baby?" It may and ought to be cured. The main secret of remedy is, of course, the resolute Will. Every habit which men confess can be broken, if it be thoroughly willed that the thing must and shall be done.
Regime 1. You should resolve every day until it ceases to be necessary, as soon as you rise, to remember whatever you ought to remember during that day. It would be better to so resolve at morning and at noon. At the close of the time limited, you should recall wherein you have failed, and spend a few moments in deliberate thought on the folly of this fault.
Régime 2. You should ask yourself concerning any particular matter requiring attention : " Why do I wish to remember this thing? Who will suffer if I fail? Who will be benefited if I succeed?"
Régime 3. You should make up your mind absolutely never to defer what ought to be done at some time, and may be done immediately. The moment you think of a matter which you wish to attend to, proceed instantly to do it. If it is impossible at the time, charge your mind with it again, state why it must be done, and when you will give it attention. Do it then at almost any cost. You are fixing a habit of recollection, and this is worth all inconvenience.
Régime 4. You should begin now to give your whole mind to whatever you undertake. Do nothing without full thought. Repeat to yourself : " I know what I am doing and why. This one thing I do." When the matter is finished, and before you allow yourself to think of anything else, review it carefully. Is it all complete? Is it exactly to your satisfaction? If not, go back and do it over again, following the above directions. This develops the habit of thinking on what you are doing.
Régime 5. You should never think of one thing while trying to do another -- except in certain habituated tasks.
Régime 6. You should put yourself to inconvenience to make good any carelessness.
Régime 7. You should never allow yourself to be-come excited.
Practise daily, for three months, making a different route which you will follow in going to and returning from your place of business, and never fail.
Régime 8. Determine every day until unnecessary, to recall, at a certain exact hour, some particular mat-ter to which you will then attend. Keep the same hour for many days ; then change the hour ; continue until you are master in this respect. This will build up a habit of obeying your own orders.
Régime 9. At frequent intervals, during each day until unnecessary, stop all active work, and recall any particular matter which you ought to have attended to. Then recall any matter to which you must yet attend. Do not be hurried. Give your whole thought to these efforts. Immediately make good your negligence.
Régime 10. Never trust mere note books for matters which a fair memory ought to retain. Never trust anything else for dates and important business trans-actions. Put no confidence in mnemonics ; tie no strings to your fingers; make no associations (unless of the simplest kind) as helps. Use your Will. Compel yourself to obey that power.
There are those whose Will-power is very good when they have decided what they will do. But they find it difficult to arrive at decision. They balance the pros and cons to weariness, and cannot settle the matter in hand. That is to say, they believe themselves to be engaged as indicated. The truth is, their minds are confused, and it is but vaguely that they think at all. If this is your habit— that of indecision you must summon your entire strength to its destruction. The difficulty is more or less constitutional ; nevertheless it may be overcome.
Regime 1. Carry always with you a strong sense of resolution.
Régime 2. Cultivate consciousness of self and self-possession.
Régime 3. Remember always where you are and what you are doing.
Régime 4. Under no circumstances permit yourself to become excited or confused. If you find either of these conditions obtaining, defer the matter until calmness returns. If it cannot be deferred, summons tremendous Will ; remember, " I must be calm ! " and decide as best you can. At the next emergency profit by this experience. But waste no energy in useless reviews of mistakes. Store away the mood of coolness for future use.
Régime 5. Learn to think of but one thing at a time. When engaged with any matter, put the whole mind upon that alone.
Regime 6. Make the difficulty and discomfort of indecision cause for immediate resolution.
Regime 7. When in doubt attend to motives singly. Think of one at a time clearly and forcibly. Do not become distracted by many considerations. In examining motives force a vivid conception of each, and then of all together. Then rapidly review all reasons, for and against, as nearly at once as possible. Then act ! Decide ! Take some chances. All men must do so more or less. Waste no time with consequent regrets.
Regime 8. For at least three months resolve every morning as to, how you will dress. Do this quickly. Fix the exact order of procedure. Adhere strictly to your plan. Never yield ; never hesitate. Dress as rap-idly as possible. Vary the order each day, as far as may be done with your combination.
Regime 9. Resolve, when you start for your office, or any objective point, that you will keep in mind what you are doing until you arrive. Do not plan the way at the start. Proceed on your way; think that you are going; at the first opportunity for varying the course, pause an instant, think of reasons for one way or another, and immediately decide — to take this car or to follow that street; at the next opportunity, repeat the process. Continue until facility in quick decision in the matter is acquired.
Régime 10. You should cultivate the habit of acting in a rapid, energetic manner. Do everything you undertake with keen thought and a strong feeling of power.
Regime 11. You should above all learn promptness. Meet every engagement on the minute. Fulfil each duty exactly on time. Never dawdle in any matter. Be decisive in all things.
Régime 12. In addition to hours and dates ordinarily fixed in your life, make many artificial resolutions relating to time and manner, and religiously carry them out to the letter. Keep forever in mind the necessity of promptness, energy, quickness of action, strength of Will.
WANT OF OPINION
The fundamental difficulty here is lack of thought. People who think have opinions. Thought can be cultivated only by exercise of Will, and in three ways : by forced efforts, which require Will; by reading, which requires intelligent comprehension, and by observation, which requires attention.
Régime 1. You do not observe keenly and clearly what is going on about you. You should resolve and instantly begin to see things. It is a great art, that of seeing correctly. The wise man is he who sees what other people are merely looking at. You should deter-mine to see things as they are. This means that you are to find out what they are. You can begin upon any common object: the ground; the grass; household furniture. After a time you will become interested, and you will then find yourself thinking. Then you will have opinions, because you will believe or know many matters.
Régime 2. You need to discover wherein you are ignorant. That will be comparatively easy. Then you must set about finding all that you can discover upon some particular subject. Look around; ask questions; read papers, magazines, books. Keep the end in view, to know this subject to the bottoni. Do not allow yourself to be diverted from this purpose. Become a walking encyclopedia on this one thing. When you have exhausted the matter as far as possible, you will possess genuine opinions. And you will then be eager to take another subject, and will follow it to the last farthing of value. The result will be — more opinions.
Régime 3. In the meantime, you will have discovered the luxury of intelligent opinions, and of the habit of forming your own. People accept the opinions of others because they are aware of their own ignorance. So soon as they become themselves informed, they decline this sort of superiority. Want of opinion and want of knowledge are equivalent. The latter is the sole right remedy for the former. But there is no cure for want of brains. Without brains so-called opinions are fools' quips. At the brainless person Nature wrings her helpless hands. It is a finality of despair.
This habit is the outcome of a stubborn Will exercised by a blind soul. The opinionated man sees him-self only. His Volitions are not so much strong and active as set and inert. The Will is here more or less diseased, because the self has no proper outlook upon life. The self supposes that it understands things, events and persons, but its real understanding is vague and partial. Could it know more, it would arrive at different views. It looks at the silver side of the shield; it ought to discover the other side; but it cannot do this. Certain aspects of events are presented; it cannot penetrate to additional phases. Views of people give it notions which are not real ideas because true motives of conduct are hidden. The opinionated person is usually wrong. As woman depends largely upon intuitions, when she betrays the fault here under consideration it is well-nigh incurable, for intuitions are not amenable to reason. They are divine when right, but the despair of man when wrong. The difficulty here lies in the fact that the opinionated soul views all things through itself, and magnifies its own personality to enormous proportions. It is ruled by subjective conditions which shut out the relations and perspective of the world.
Who ne'er concedes the law of truth,
Such a conception of self can only be corrected by a true realization of the personality of other people.
There are those who never actually appreciate the fact that their fellows are genuine existences. To them human beings are little more than phantoms, presenting various unsubstantial phenomena of life; they are never bona-fide persons possessed of hearts and brains, and engaged in concrete realities. Why should phantoms have opinions? Themselves are real; them-selves discover reasons for views; themselves are there-fore entitled to opinions. This right is not universal because other minds are not by them apprehended as actual. Hence the remedy for this species of "insanity " must go to the root of the difficulty. These people must learn to realize their fellows. If the habit of opinionativeness is to be cured, humanity must be made concrete and real in thought.
In order to this, let the following suggestions be practised during life. After death your happiness will largely depend upon your power to concede to your fellows a legitimate place in the universe.
Régime r. Select one of your friends or acquaintances, and study that soul with no reference whatever to yourself. Learn his ways, his sentiments and emotions, his thoughts and motives, No matter whether these elements of his life are proper or improper, right or wrong; you are not to sit in judgment upon him, but merely to become thoroughly acquainted with his nature and character. In time you will discover that he thinks he has various reasons for his opinions, which you are not to condemn, because that is not the thing in hand, but which you are vividly to realize as facts in his life. Above all, you will gradually find yourself thinking of him as a real being in a real body and engaged in a real life.
Régime 2. Continue this study with reference to other people about you, until you have formed the habit of feeling thoroughly the fact that you are dealing with living men and women.
Régime 3. When you have ceased to think of them as phantoms, a curious thing will occur; you will regard some of your old-time opinions as more or less confused, inadequate and baseless.
Régime 4. At all times you should remember with whom you are coming in contact., If your idea of human life is justifiable, you need look upon no one as your inferior. Many people may be so, indeed, but it isn't worth while considering. You have, perhaps, been accustomed to deference and obedience from your employees. Such a relation demands politeness on your part for the sake of your own dignity. The per-son who is not polite to servants surrenders moral values. Yet politeness is merely the veneer of the Golden Rule. That rule, in all respects, should be practised toward those with whom you deal. When it governs a man's life, the "maid," the "man," the employee comes to be regarded as a human being in an exalted sense. Such an habitual regard transfers from the ranks of servants to those of fellows. You have fallen into the habit of hurling your opinions at people to whom you pay no wages because you have had authority over those who receive the means of living at your hands. Were you to look upon your " help" as real beings, sensitive and possessed of rights, you would not arrogate to your opinions sole legality and exclusive value. Whatever you do as to " hands," you do not own the rest of mankind. It is not "good policy" to forget this trifling fact.
Régime 5. You should forever strive exactly to understand opinions opposite to your own. You cannot thrust them aside as wrong unless you know what they really are. The opinionated person seldom understands what he contradicts. A thorough knowledge of another man's thought will bring you nearer to him, and your ideas, being then compared with his, will probably not seem so huge and so unquestionably correct.
Régime 6. The study of opposite opinions involves the study of reasons. There is a possibility that, when you fully discover another person's reasons for opinions, your own reasons may undergo some alteration. It would diminish your infallibility if you could see the force with which reasons other than your own make for differing views.
Régime 7. You should occasionally recall your errors in judgment. It may be ventured with some assurance that you will be able to recollect at least one such error. If once in error, possibly many times. Burn that into your soul.
Régime 8. You should also recall the mistakes of your life. You have thus suffered injury. If you can write this on the retina of your eye, perhaps you may reform a little of your cocksure attitude. Some of your mistakes have injured others. If you do not care about this, close the present book and " gang your ain gait." The pig pen has one remedy fire and the sword.
CONCLUSION OF PART IV,
In conclusion of the two preceding chapters, it would be well for every person occasionally to submit to self-examination as to the reign of habits, whether immoral or otherwise. Beware of the " devil's palsy of self approbation." Let a list of personal faults be care-fully and deliberately made. They should be scrutinized severely to ascertain their power and results. Then resolve to destroy them, root and branch. Begin at once. Carry the list with you. Frequently read it. Determine, again and again, to be rid of them. Give each a definite time for extirpation. Pre-serve a record of success and failure in this respect. Read this at the close of each day of battle. Continue until free.
Meanwhile, in all things, cultivate the resolute, conquering Mood of Will. You can be free!
RESOLVE! "ATTENTION TO THE KING ON HIS THRONE !!"