The Tyranny Of Habit
EVEN GOOD HABITS NEED TO BE MODIFIED.--But even in good habits there is
danger. Habit is the opposite of attention. Habit relieves attention of
unnecessary strain. Every habitual act was at one time, either in the
history of the race or of the individual, a voluntary act; that is, it
was performed under active attention. As the habit grew, attention was
gradually rendered unnecessary, until finally it dropped entirely out.
And herein lies the danger. Habit once formed has no way of being
modified unless in some way attention is called to it, for a habit left
to itself becomes more and more firmly fixed. The rut grows deeper. In
very few, if any, of our actions can we afford to have this the case.
Our habits need to be progressive, they need to grow, to be modified, to
be improved. Otherwise they will become an incrusting shell, fixed and
unyielding, which will limit our growth.
It is necessary, then, to keep our habitual acts under some surveillance
of attention, to pass them in review for inspection every now and then,
that we may discover possible modifications which will make them more
serviceable. We need to be inventive, constantly to find out better ways
of doing things. Habit takes care of our standing, walking, sitting; but
how many of us could not improve his poise and carriage if he would? Our
speech has become largely automatic, but no doubt all of us might remove
faults of enunciation, pronunciation or stress from our speaking. So
also we might better our habits of study and thinking, our methods of
memorizing, or our manner of attending.
THE TENDENCY OF RUTS.--But this will require something of heroism. For
to follow the well-beaten path of custom is easy and pleasant, while to
break out of the rut of habit and start a new line of action is
difficult and disturbing. Most people prefer to keep doing things as
they always have done them, to continue reading and thinking and
believing as they have long been in the habit of doing, not so much
because they feel that their way is best, but because it is easier than
to change. Hence the great mass of us settle down on the plane of
mediocrity, and become old fogy. We learn to do things passably well,
cease to think about improving our ways of doing them, and so fall into
a rut. Only the few go on. They make use of habit as the rest do, but
they also continue to attend at critical points of action, and so make
habit an ally in place of accepting it as a tyrant.