ON HABITS

Outline: I was in conflict with a habit – an example of the tyranny of habits – advantages of habits – we shouldn’t be their slaves – conclusion.

I sat down to write an article this morning, but found I could make no progress. I was writing with a pen-anew, excellent pen. Then it occurred to me that I was in conflict with a habit. It is my practice to do my writing with a pencil. Put a pencil in my hand, seat me before a blank writing pad in an empty room, and I am, as they say of the children, as good as gold. But here was I sitting with a pen in my hand, and the whole complex of habit was disturbed. The pen kept intruding between me and my thoughts. It was unfamiliar to the touch.

The tyranny of little habits which is familiar to all of us is nowhere better described than in the story which Sir Walter Scott told of his school days. “There was “he said,” a boy in my class who stood always at the top, nor could I with all my effort supplant him. I observed that, when a question was asked him, he always fumbled with his fingers at a particular button in the lower part of his waistcoat…to remove it, therefore, became expedient in my eye, and in an evil moment it was removed with a knife. When the boy was again questioned, his finger sought again for the button, but it was not to be found. In his distress he looked down for it – it was not be seen. He stood confounded, and I took possession of his place.”

There is no harm in cultivating habits, so long as they – are not injurious habits. Indeed, most of us are little more than bundles of habits neatly done up in coat and trousers. Habits simplify the mechanism of life. They enable us to do a multitude of thing automatically which, if we had to give fresh and original thought to them each time, would make existence an impossible confusion.

But habits should be a stick that we use, not a crutch to lean on. We ought to make them for our convenience or enjoyment and occasionally break them to assert our independence. We ought to be able to employ them, without being discomposed when we cannot employ them.


I happily had a remedy for my disquietude. I put away my pen, took out a pencil, and, launched once more into a comfortable rut of habit, I began to write with ease. And this is the (I hope) pardonable result