William James (1842-1910) was a member of the illustrious New England family that included his brother, the novelist Henry James. One of the most important American philosophers, he is known as the originator of Pragmatism. In 1890 he published a book entitled The Principles of Psychology, which is still regarded, over 100 years later, as an excellent description of how our brains work. Chapter IV, “Habit”, includes these passages:
. . . In most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again.
. . . Provided one can stand it, a sharp period of suffering, and then a free time, is the best thing to aim at, whether in giving up a habit like that of opium, or in simply changing one’s hours of rising or of work. It is surprising how soon a desire will die…if it be never fed.
. . . If we often flinch from making an effort, before we know it the effort-making capacity will be gone; and . . . if we [allow] the wandering of our attention, presently it will wander all the time. Continue reading “William James on Habits”