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“There Is No More Miserable Human Being Than One in Whom Nothing Is Habitual”

“There Is No More Miserable Human Being Than One in Whom Nothing Is Habitual”

“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.”

— William James, Talks to Teachers on Psychology

William James is certainly one of the great thinkers about the nature of habits. I find myself quoting him constantly. And I absolutely agree with his point: the key benefit of making habits is that they relieve us from the weariness of decision-making.

Whenever I hear someone talking about the importance of making "healthy choices," I think -- no! Don't keep making healthy choices! The more we choose, the more likely we are to choose the wrong course. Choose once, then don't choose again. Decide not to decide.  Use habits.

In an earlier draft of my forthcoming book about habits, Better Than Before, I used this quotation as one of two epigraphs, along with this quotation from John Gardner (which haunts me). But in a recent revision, I chucked them both and picked an entirely different quotation; how I love choosing epigraphs.  If you want to know when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

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