It has been rightly said that habit is second nature. That is, what we do often today, we will soon begin to do always tomorrow, and thus the habit will grow to be a part of our natural self. For habit, whether good or bad, is the basis of character and a man is regarded by society according to his habits and disposition.
We should be very careful about forming our habits. Some are in the habit of forgetting to do things or of mislaying things. Some have a habit for being always late ; some of giving up a job after the first attempt. Some are habitual late-risers; others are always slow; habit causes loss to oneself and irritates others.
Habit often hardens into superstition. Syed Kirmani, once India’s Test Wicket-Keeper, would go to play only after touching the Holy Koran. Pandit Nehru used to get up from bed in the morning with Sirshasan i.e. standing on his head. An eminent statesman could not start talk except by swearing. A high officer was found to start for office only after touching the feet of his mother. He absented himself from office when his mother was in the hospital.
For character is nothing but a bundle of habits. Habit, when it hardens, becomes the dominant trait of the character. To quote Aristotle, “Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way.” Excellence of character is nothing but a bundle of excellent habits. Cultivate good habits and the most difficult task becomes very easy to perform.
The best way, therefore, of building up character is to form good habits. One should cultivate only the habits that are the earliest seeds of habit, 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. It is to be remembered that habits once formed, get into bones and become obsession, even inhibitions, when it is very difficult to shake them off.
But one should not allow even good habits to take the place of one’s free will. Habit should not make us surrender our judgment. Let us be warned by a well-known story: A soldier was going with a dish of food when a mischievous soldier cried, “Attention”. The soldier automatically dropped his dish and stood at attention. This sort of automatism is the habit to act upon thought.
Therefore, habit should not be limited to routine activities only. They must not paralyze thought and the power of judgment. In the matter of laying our bed, 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 decisions, in operating our will, what is needed is not a settled habit, but the rational exercise of our free will.
Let us, therefore, without losing our independence, develop habits of punctuality, courtesy, truthfulness, obedience, and charity is the virtue necessary for living a good life.