Power of Habit

The Mechanic Arts Magazine

Habit is defined as the tendency or inclination toward an action or condition, which, by repetition, has become easy, spontaneous, or even unconscious. Thought itself is governed by habit.

How is thought governed by habit? Every man has two kinds of opinions: one kind consisting of logical conclusions that are the result of thought, while the other kind consists of opinions that are merely the result of habit. The majority of our opinions are of this last character. We, ourselves, call them our "views," other people call them our "prejudices." Most of what we call "thinking" on every-day occurrences of life is little more than a mechanical adjustment of our minds to our environment. There is a strong tendency in us all to accept what seems inevitable as right. This applies to most of our ideas about the conventionalities of life, but it also applies to more important matters. Fifty years ago everybody in the South, and almost everybody in the North, defended slavery. The conviction was not a logical conclusion—it was a habit. Slavery had always existed, and our thinking was adjusted to it; it therefore seemed a part of the Divine plan. Our thinking is at present adjusted to the wide existence of poverty in the world. Some people think that this is not an intelligent conviction, but a habit of thought which we may get rid of some day.

If you wish to change a man's opinion on any subject, the first thing to do is to find out whether that particular opinion is a logical conclusion with him or an opinion formed from habit. If it is a logical conclusion, you can change it by argument; but if it is a mere habit, argument will only irritate him and make him stubborn. You must give him a chance to outgrow it. As we grow older we form many such habits, which constitute a kind of "mechanism of thought." After that, when a new proposition is presented, the first question is not "Is it true?" but, "Does it accord with my views?" If it fits into our mechanism of thinking, we accept it; if it does not, we reject it. In this way most of us crystallize at about forty and fossilize at about sixty years of age. Great minds, however, remain plastic until extreme old age.

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Among the Churches
October 26, 1899

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