Tuesday, December 26

Habit and schedule

To obtain virtue, Socrates thought that the cultivation of good habits was necessary. In The Art of Being, Erich Fromm writes about the need for concentration in habitual activities.

Before I can progress in this post, there is a fundamental question that must be asked. What are habits? The definition my philosophy professor of this past semester gave is a good one. Habits are those things we do again and again that have a cumulative effect and lead towards a single goal.

My problem lies in distinguishing between the daily practice of habits and scheduling. This, of course, requries further distinctions to be made between kinds of habits. You simply can't schedule habits of a moral, ethical nature, the ones that Socrates was speaking of. You cannot say, "I am going to spend this morning being honest and practice altruism in the afternoon." These should be taken into account and practiced in all of our interactions, every day. Ultimately, we should strive to develop virtues like justice and patience to the point that we no longer think of their practice but simply live them.

Lying in contrast to these habits of moral development are those of skill development, habits that are better aligned with Fromm's treatment of habits. Learning a new language or how to paint or whatever, those require our full attention and concentration. To some extent, we can integrate these into our daily lives in the same way as moral habits by trying to translate some phrases into our chosen language or practice motions that mimic those of a paintbrush. Still, these are the types of things that time must be devoted to specifically if one wants to make true progress in them. So, in order to acquire these skills, we schedule time to work on them.

Is it possible to overschedule in this regard? Of course. At the heart of this lies my dispute with any form of overscheduling, be it on vacation or in anyother aspect of one's life, or too much control over one's choices. To the extent that we remain committed to our schedules, we remove chaos from our lives, necessary for discovery and growth. If we remain in complete control of every aspect of our lives, we can never mature beyond ourselves. We are our limit. It's the same problem that news and blogs consumers run into these days. People immerse themselves in those that reinforce their own beliefs rather than challenging themselves with intelligent works of differing politics. Their beliefs are thusly never tested, and good ideas, often the result of synthesis, may never be found.

This all leads to a rather simple principle with regards to habits: flexibility. Rather than saying, "I will read this work in a foreign language from 3:30 to 4:00 today," you try instead to read a chapter sometime today while still being prepared to take advantage of alternative opportunities.

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