Monday, November 1, 2010

The practice of good and bad habits

Epictetus writes:
Thus the practice of immodesty develops an immodest character; knavery, a knavish one; slander, a slanderous one; anger, an angry one; and fraud, a covetous one.

For this reason, philosophers advise us not to be contented with mere learning, but to add meditation likewise, and then practice.
This was one of the best things I read so far in Epictetus.  He said something very clearly, and what he said was a new thought to me.  When we persist in bad habits, we don't merely fail to improve, we are actually practicing those habits.  We're getting worse.

Reading and pondering is not enough.  We need to correct our faults, and do it now.

This finally gave me the impetus to try out some changes.  As a smartphone-loving engineer, I immediately thought that there must be an app that allows us to track our habits.  I use an Android phone, so I found the app Habit Streak.  The app is fairly simple: define certain habits you want to keep (or avoid).  At the end of the day, mark whether you succeeded.  The app keeps track of how long your streak of good days is per habit.

I started off with the habit of not getting angry.  I often lose my temper briefly, to the detriment of those around me, and to my own peace of mind.  Anger seemed like a great bad habit to start with.  So I created a goal of not getting angry.  I had a streak of two days before I broke it yesterday by an angry outburst while in some ridiculous, unimportant argument I found myself in.  I'll keep trying.  I suggest you do the same with your bad habits.

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