In his “The Vision of Theodore, The Hermit of Teneriffe, Found in His Cell,” Dr. Johnson describes the nature of habits:

“It was the peculiar artifice of Habit not to suffer her power to be felt at first. Those whom she led, she had the address of appearing only to attend, but was continually doubling her chains upon her companions; which were so slender in themselves, and so silently fastened, that while the attention was engaged by other objects, they were not easily perceived. Each link grew tighter as it had been longer worn, and when, by continual additions, they became so heavy as to be felt, they were very frequently too strong to be broken.” 1

The point is habits, though barely perceptible at first, grow extremely strong in the end.

Now, whether this is a good thing or bad thing depends on the kinds of habits you’re developing. If you’re developing bad habits, the longer you wait to break them the harder it will be to do so. But if you’re building good habits, the more you persevere the longer they are likely to continue.

The new year provides a fitting time to consider the habits you are currently forging. Are they the kinds of habits you hope to grow stronger with time? Or are there any that should be broken now before they grow into chains even harder to deal with?

  1. Subsequent writers have modified and streamlined the passage into its modern form: “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” See for a history of the quote. ↩︎