Just as a beaten track is formed by many people walking along it, in the same way, our habits, good or bad, are formed by repeated acts. They are a part of human character. They are easy to make but hard to break. Good habits make a good man and bad habits a bad man.
It has been truly said, "Sow a thought, and you reap an act; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap character; sow character, and you reap destiny." Excellent habits render the most difficult task easy to perform.
We should take pains to form good habits. Youth is the time for forming good habits. Our minds are then plastic and can be moulded in any way we like. We should cultivate those habits which build strong character and foster manliness.
We should form habits of industry, honesty, early rising, daily exercise, obedience to our teachers and parents, moral courage, will-power, perseverance, optimism and capacity to act, to execute, to translate ideas into practical action.
Once we lose this opportunity, it will be difficult to turn our minds to the right direction later on. With age our mind hardens and it afterwards receives no impression at all; however hard we may try. Cultivation of good habits in youth ensures success in life.
Some parents are over-indulgent to their children. They overlook little lapses on their part as matters of no consequence and make no effort to put them on the right track. But remember that he who overlooks a fault invites the commission of another.
So a bad habit must be nipped in the bud or else like a disease it will grow and become incurable. The great Plato once scolded a child for gambling with nuts. The child replied, "You are scolding me for a trifle" To this Plato gravely said, "Habit is no trifle."
Habit, whether good or bad, is the basis of character and a man is judged by society according to his habits and disposition. Once a habit is formed, we are practically at its mercy. So we must cultivate only good habits.
The best way, therefore, of building up character is to create desirable habits. One should cultivate only the habits that one desires and one's character will be formed according to one's wishes. The earliest seeds of habits are of course, sown by the child's tendency of imitating its elders.
Therefore it is important that grown-up people should be particularly careful of their behaviour before little children. The influence of companions is also very great, for association is the gateway through which many of our habits enter. This is the reason why choice of companions is so important in life.
But one should not allow even good habits to take the place of one's free and rational will. In other words, habits should not make us machines. Let us take a warning by a well-known story. A soldier was going with a dish of food when a mischievous urchin cried "Attention!" The soldier automatically dropped his dish and stood at attention. This sort of automatism is negation of man's higher privilege-his power to act upon thought.
Habits, therefore, should be limited to routine activities where they are useful. They must not paralyze thought and the power of judgment. In the matter of leaving our bed and going to sleep and arranging our day according to routine, it pays to follow a settled course of habit. But in the higher things of life, in making a decision in operating our will, what is needed is not a settled habit, but the rational exercise of one's free will.
We should, therefore, without losing our independence, develop habits of honesty, integrity, punctuality, courtesy, truthfulness, thrift, obedience and charity. Let us take every care to cultivate only habits such as will enable us to lift ourselves above the level of the common man.