Monday, July 6, 2015

The Importance of Habits

(If you are new to Charlotte Mason, read my introduction to her here.)
"The Effort of Decision - But it has been well said by a celebrated preacher that the effort of decision is the greatest effort of life.  We find it so ourselves; shall we take this line of action or the other, shall we choose this or the other quality of carpet, send our boy to this or the other school?  We all know that such questions are difficult to settle, and the wear and tear of nervous tissue the decision costs is evidence often enough by the nervous headache it leaves behind.  For this reason it is, we may reverently believe, that we are so marvelously and mercifully made that most of our decisions arrive, so to speak, of themselves:  that is, ninety-nine out of a hundred things we do, are done, well or ill, as mere matters of habit.  With this wonderful provision in our tissues for recording repeated actions and reproducing them upon given stimuli - a means provided for easing the the burden of life..."  - Charlotte Mason (Vol 3, pg 20-21)
I had never thought of the existence of habits as God's marvelous provision to keep us from the heavy mental burden of having to make conscientious decisions in every small part of our lives.  Wow, what a gift!  Imagine if we had to exert mental effort deciding whether or not to brush our teeth, to get dressed, or to clip our fingernails!

Because of the habits we have formed, we don't waste energy trying to decide whether or not to sweep the crumbs off the floor.  We grab the broom and complete the task in less time than it would have taken us to decide whether or not to do so had it not been habit.  And our lives are many times easier for the blessing of the habit.

Charlotte goes on to say, " is startling and shocking that there are many children of thoughtful parents whose lives are spent in day-long efforts of decision upon matters which it is their parents' business to settle for them."  (Vol 3, pg 21)

In other words, we must teach our children - starting at very young ages - to develop good habits.  Without proper habits, the children are completely unprepared for the demands of life.

Of all habits, the most important, I believe, is obedience, for that will govern every other part of their life.
"It is an old story that the failures in life are not the people who lack good intentions; they are those whose physical nature has not acquired the habit of prompt and involuntary obedience.  The man who can make himself do what he wills has the world before him, and it rests with parents to give their children this self-compelling power as a mere matter of habit.  But is it not better and higher, it may be asked, to train children to act always in response to the divine mandate as it makes itself heard through the voice of conscience?  The answer is, that in doing this, we must not leave the other undone." - Charlotte Mason (Vol 3, pg 20)
Children must learn first to obey the Creator, then the people whom God has placed in authority over them, and finally their own wills.

It is our job as parents to instill this habit of "prompt and involuntary obedience."  We understand it quite plainly where it relates to safety.  But we must expect that our children will obey every directive without question.  In so doing, we give them the keys to a happy and fulfilling existence.  Learning to be under authority is learning the quintessential habit of a Christian life.

Charlotte gave this wise advice when it came to the teaching of prompt obedience:  "And yet how wise this good mother is when she trusts to her own instinct rather than to a fallacious principle:  - 'I find in giving any order to a child, it is always better not to look to see if he obeys, but to take it for granted that it will be done.  If one appears to doubt the obedience, there is given for the child to hesitate, "Shall I do it or no?"  If  you seem not to question the possibility of non-compliance, he feels a trust committed to him to keep and fulfills it.  It is best never to repeat a command, never to answer this oft-asked question, "Why?"'"  (Vol 3, pg 15)

I have been thinking about the other important habits I must teach my children.

This might come first as picking up toys and making their beds.  Instead of cleaning up their spills, it is worth the extra effort to train the children to clean up their own messes.  Once this habit is instilled, how much easier is the parent's life now and the child's life later!  Not to be overlooked in the habit of orderliness is the habit of throwing or giving away things that are no longer used.

We must take the time to teach children to do the kind thing in all circumstances, to assist the elderly and the overburdened, and to care for each one of God's creations.

Focusing Thoughts on Those Things Which Are True
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."  - Philippians 4:8

There is a wonderful quote by Benjamin Whichcote:  "The consequence of truth is great; therefore the judgment of it must not be negligent."

To first learn how to decipher what is true and then to "think on these things" is indeed a habit that would be well to be both taught and learned.  This starts with the Bible, of course, but it does not end there.

Susan Schaeffer Macaulay illustrates that point so nicely in her book, For the Children's Sake.
"Some believe that to secure a 'Christian' education one has to use Christian textbooks for study.  It is a mistake to think that arithmetic problems are more 'Christian' if, for example, the child sticks to measurements of the ark!  No, measurement is part of reality, to be studied for its own sake.  The child should be put in touch with the best available material in each field.  So, the math program we choose will probably have been written by someone with a quite different religious view from the Christian one.  Math does relate to the whole of truth; it has its place.  It is like art, music, horticulture, or cooking:  the 'Christian-ness' of it lies in itself.  We are secure in God's truth, which is a framework into which we can fit all the parts of reality."
I love that we can be so secure that we are free to explore and to think and to read and to learn and then, from there, to use the measuring stick of the Word to decipher what is truth.  As Susan goes on to say, we need not "make every day a sort of Sunday School lesson to achieve this."

I think I've gotten completely off-track.  Charlotte had SO much to say about habits.  There is no way to include all of her thoughts in this article without making it pages and pages long.  However, I want to end with this final thought from her regarding training our brain through the use of habits.
"But, practically, everybody knows that the body, and every part of the body, accommodates itself very readily to the uses it is put to:  we know that if a child accustom herself to stand on one foot, thus pushing up one shoulder, the habit will probably end in curvature of the spine; that to permit drooping shoulder, and, consequently, contracted chest, is to prepare the way for lung disease.  The physical consequences of bad habits of this sort are so evident, that we cannot blind ourselves to the relation of cause and effect.  What we are less prepared to admit is, that habits which do not appear to be in any sense physical - a flippant habit, a truthful habit, an orderly habit - should also make their mark upon a physical tissue, and that it is to this physical effect the enormous strength of habit is probably due.  Yet when we consider that the brain, the physical brain, is the exceedingly delicate organ by means of which we think and feel and desire,  love and hate and worship, it is not surprising that the organ should be modified by the work it has to do; to put the matter picturesquely, it is as if every familiar train of thought made a rut in the nervous substance of the brain into which the thoughts run lightly of their own accord, and out of which they can only be got by an effort of will."  (Vol 1, pg 114)


  1. What a great article! I think the hardest thing for me is to develop habits in myself! This is good inspiration to keep going! Excited to read more! Really loving this blog!

    1. Thank you so much! And yes, isn't it so hard?

  2. Homeschooling (and even just motherhood in general) has really forced me to develop good routines for our family which I think falls under the umbrella of habits. I have found it so helpful for the children to know what's coming and what's expected. Makes things run so much smoother. And establishes good lifelong habits for them too. I love the idea of habits being a blessing. Haven't really thought about it that way, but I do know how mentally draining my indecisiveness can be when something is not habitual!!

    1. My kids are still quite young, so I feel that we are still in the beginning stages of developing good family routines. But you are so right. The ones that we do have in place sure do make things run smoother! And just having them know what is generally expected of them as far as obedience and respect is so huge.


Heather Bork is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to