Habit is a powerful force

Here’s an interesting quote by William Walker Atkinson:

“Habit is a force which is generally recognized by the average thinking person, but which is commonly viewed in its adverse aspect to the exclusion of its favorable phase. It has been well said that all men are “The creatures of habit,” and that “Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and it becomes so strong that we cannot break it.” But the above quotations only serve to emphasize that side of the question in which men are shown as the slaves of habit, suffering from its confining bonds. There is another side to the question, and that side shall be considered now.

If it be true that Habit becomes a cruel tyrant ruling and compelling men against their will, desire, and inclination — and this is true in many cases, the question naturally arises in the thinking mind whether this mighty force cannot be harnessed and controlled in the service of man, just as have other forces of Nature.

If this result can be accomplished, then man may master Habit and set it to work, instead of being a slave to it and serving it faithfully though complainingly. And the modern psychologists tell us in no uncertain tones that Habit may certainly be thus mastered, harnessed and set to work, instead of being allowed to dominate one’s actions and character. And thousands of people have applied this new knowledge and have turned the force of Habit into new channels, and have compelled it to work their machinery of action, instead of being allowed to run to waste, or else permitted to sweep away the structures that men have erected with care and expense, or to destroy fertile mental fields.

A habit is a “mental path” over which our actions have traveled for some time, each passing making the path a little deeper and a little wider. If you have to walk over a field or through a forest, you know how natural it is for you to choose the clearest path in preference to the less worn ones, and greatly in preference to stepping out across the field or through the woods and making a new path. And the line of mental action is precisely the same. It is movement along the lines of the least resistance—passage over the well-worn path. Habits are created by repetition and are formed in accordance to a natural law, observable in all animate things and some would say in inanimate things as well.

As an instance of the latter, it is pointed out that a piece of paper once folded in a certain manner will fold along the same lines the next time. And all users of sewing machines, or other delicate pieces of mechanism, know that as a machine or instrument is once “broken in” so will it tend to run thereafter.

The same law is also observable in the case of musical instruments. Clothing, or gloves form into creases according to the person using them, and these creases once formed will always be in effect, notwithstanding repeated pressings. Rivers and streams of water cut their courses through the land, and thereafter flow along the habit-course. The law is in operation everywhere.

The above illustrations will help you to form the idea of the nature of habit, and will aid you in forming new mental paths—new mental creases. And, remember this always—the best (and one might say the only) way in which old habits may be removed is to form new habits to counteract and replace the old undesirable ones. Form new mental paths over which to travel, and the old ones will soon become less distinct and in time will practically fill up from disuse. Every time you travel over the path of the desirable mental habit, you make the path deeper and wider, and make it so much easier to travel it thereafter. This mental path-making is a very important thing, and I cannot urge upon you too strongly the injunction to start to work making the desirable mental paths over which you wish to travel. Practice, practice, practice—be a good path-maker.”

We go over exactly this type of knowledge and training in the course:
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