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The Very Dickens To Change


Samuel Johnson told us that the chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken; and John Dryden added that ill habits gather by unseen degrees — As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.

The truth of it is that Arnold Bennett got it right when he said that habits are the very dickens to change. Abigail Van Buren was also on point when she added that a bad habit never disappears miraculously. It’s an undo-it-yourself project. Of course Mark Twain was also there, egar to join in, “Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

Naturally, St. Augustine had a wise caution for us, “Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.;” and as we would expect, Mark Twain inserted his take here on putting too much stock in saints and wisdom, “To have nothing the matter with you and no habits is pretty tame, pretty colorless. It is just the way a saint feels, I reckon; it is at least the way he looks. I never could stand a saint.”

“Habit is a man’s sole comfort. We dislike doing without even unpleasant things to which we have become accustomed,” according to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. We already knew that habbits are sticky and not easily abandoned so aren’t surprised that Georg Christoph Lichtenberg added that habit might be described as a kind of moral friction — as something not allowing easy passage to the mind, but rather so binding it to things that to work loose from them is difficult. A Spanish Proverb puts it like this, “Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables;” and Horace Mann like this, “Habit is a cable; we weave a thread each day, and at last we cannot break it.”

As much as there is to say on the side of giving up our bad habbits, Eng’s Principle advises that “The easier it is to do, the harder it is to change;” and bad habbits are definitly hard to change. At least mine are and I suspect yours are too, so we don’t want to stop short, without reminding ourselves that habbits are not without virtue. Frank Crane said that habits are safer than rules; you don’t have to watch them. And you don’t have to keep them, either. They keep you. Well that may not be quite the virtue we had in mind so let’s leave it with this from William James, “Habit is thus the enormous flywheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor.”

Now you know so there you go.