Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Habit - the way to character

When I decided to create this blog, my goal was to share the philosophy that helped me get through bad times. I was and am only interested in ‘nuts and bolts’ philosophy, ‘practical’ philosophy, stuff that when you read it you say ‘Aha!’ or ‘That’s right! That is something I can use right now!’ I have no use for obtuse philosophical discussions on ‘the self’ and so on that you often find and associate with philosophy. I am in full agreement with the Buddha on this:

However many holy words you read,
However many you speak,
What good will they do you
If you do not act on upon them?

Holy words, good philosophy can lift our thoughts and inspire us to ‘change our mind’. This not only makes us feel better but in effect changes our destiny as we act in new ways:

Thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes go forth in action; actions form habits; habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny. Tryon Edwards

To learn new habits is everything, for it is to reach the substance of life. Life is but a tissue of habits. Henri-Frederic Amel

As I researched what others have said about habit, I realised the significance and power, the very great significance and the very great power, that habit has over our lives.

Habit is stronger than nature. Quintus Curtius Rufus

Habit is second nature, or rather, ten times nature. William James

Habit is the deepest law of human nature. Thomas Carlyle

Habit is stronger than reason. George Santayana

Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters. Nathaniel Emmons

Habit is the most imperious of all masters. Goethe

Habit is necessary to give power. William Hazlitt

But we hardly ever consciously realise the power of habit, still less consciously use habit to our advantage. Not only can good habits be formed as a ‘by-product’ of being inspired, but we can consciously, knowingly choose to ingrain a good characteristic and hence a destiny through repeated acts, through choosing to adopt an appropriate habit:

Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts. Aristotle

Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way. Aristotle

Acts of virtue ripen into habits; and the goodly and permanent result is the formation or establishment of a virtuous character. Thomas Chalmers

And when through ignorance or lack of awareness we do not choose our habits, when we let habits form willy-nilly, then we relinquish control of our characters and our lives to forces within and without more or less favourable to our cause:

In truth, the only difference between those who have failed and those who have succeeded lies in the difference of their habits. Good habits are the key to all success. Bad habits are the unlocked door to failure. Thus, the first law I will obey, which precedes all others, is - I will form good habits and become their slaves. Og Mandino

Man becomes a slave to his constantly repeated acts. What he at first chooses, at last compels. Orison Swett Marden

So, do we consciously choose to our habit so that it becomes our servant or do we unconsciously let our habit form as it will so that it becomes our master?

Habit, if wisely and skilfully formed, becomes truly a second nature; but unskilfully and unmethodically depicted, it will be as it were an ape of nature, which imitates nothing to the life, but only clumsily and awkwardly. Francis Bacon

Cultivate only the habits that you are willing should master you. Elbert Hubbard


A nail is driven out by another nail. Habit is overcome by habit. Desiderius Erasmus

Habits are the daughters of action; but they nurse their mothers, and give birth to daughters after her image, more lovely and prosperous. Jeremy Taylor

When you choose a habit, you also choose the end (destiny) of that habit. Zig Ziglar
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Photo by Magyar Balazs from Wikimedia: Aikido ‘four direction throw’ with standing attacker and seated defender

5 comments:

The Rambling Taoist said...

Personally, I think all types of philosophical discussion can lead to new habits. How we each view the world greatly impacts how we act in it. If a person has a negative worldview, then the majority of their actions will be negative. Conversely, if a person has a positive worldview, then the majority of their actions will be positive.

Thus, from my point of view, both practical philosophy and more esoteric philosophy play a role in how we interact with the world.

Alex said...

Yes, what you say is true. We are never the same person we were yesterday and discussion can lead to great insight. But Aristotle's comments were a bit of a revelation to me in that they constitute as it were a blueprint or a tool for character building. He puts responsability for our characters decisively in our own hands. This is the kind of 'nuts and bolts' philosophy I am talking about.
Thank you for the link my friend. I shall return you the favour. How did you fall on my site?

The Rambling Taoist said...

I routinely search for blogs that talk about Taoism & Taoist principles as well as Buddhism and non-mainstream thought. As we all seem to be in the minority, we form a loose-knit community...even if we're not aware of each other. :-)

Since I believe that none of us has all the "answers", I try to collect links to put on my blog so others can utilize many of the same inspirational tools. Every voice added only deepens the colorful tapestry of thought and insight.

Lydia said...

I've been following your blog but just clicked on the sidebar link to this post. Marvelous!

Alex said...

Thank you Lydia, glad you liked it. Why not send it to your friends or even Stumble it.

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond