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A Dispatch on Habits From 1892

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Managing ones finances often seems an exercise in shame as you review your monthly statement realizing you haven’t even played the pan flute you bought on a whim. Determined to display your true bourn musical gifts to the world.

 

Putting in place systems to support and maintain the development of positive habits has been a timeless challenge people seem to be in perpetual struggle with.

 

Writing in 1892 William James in Psychology: the Briefer Course describes the power of habit

 

The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work are subjects of express volitional deliberation. Full half the time of such a man goes to the deciding or regretting of matters which ought to be so ingrained in him as practically not to exist for his consciousness at all. If there be such daily duties not yet ingrained in any one of my hearers, let him begin this very hour to set the matter right.

 

In Daily Rituals Mason Currey reveals,

 

James was writing from personal experience—the hypothetical sufferer is, in fact, a thinly disguised description of himself.

 

So James was not writing in judgment of others but instead detailing his personal struggle to adopt the behaviors he knew would better help him achieve his goals.

 

Developing good financial habits is an important component to achieving your financial goals because it is an effective technique to automate the actions needed to find success.

 

As James describes

 

An acquired habit, from the physiological point of view, is nothing but a new pathway of discharge formed in the brain, by which certain incoming currents ever after tend to escape.

James continues with some guidelines on how to incorporate a new habit into your life

First, habit simplifies our movements, makes them accurate, and diminishes fatigue.

In the acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall re-enforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelop your resolution with every aid you know.

This will give your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at all. The second maxim is: Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again. Continuity of training is the great means of making the nervous system act infallibly right. As Professor Bain says:

A third maxim may be added to the preceding pair: ^ Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may, experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain.

Now to give habits staying power some you need to work on developing will power and James as some words on this as well.

do every day or two something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test.

So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and when his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.

It’s fascinating how the things people struggle with today remain similar to the struggles people sought to overcome over a century ago.  In this regard old books can be great resources because if something like Psychology a Briefer Course that was written in 1892 is still in print today. Than its content has stood the test of time by proving useful to generations of readers.

Steve Miller
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Steve Miller

Is a CFA® Charterholder and founder of DebtMD.com. A site devoted to helping people discern insights into their finances. The CFA designation is globally recognized and attests to a charterholder’s success in a rigorous and comprehensive study program in the field of investment management and research analysis.

Steve recently authored Escaping Student Loan Debt to assist student loan holders with developing and implementing strategies to minimize their repayments.

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Steve Miller
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