Habit as a Gravitational Force

American philosopher, psychologist, and physician William James is considered one of the most influential people on American psychology. In 1887, he published Habit, which is a fascinating historical perspective on the science of habits. Among his many observations, there was one that stood out to me that undoubtedly has its impact on social injustices and interpersonal relationships.

If the period between twenty and thirty is the critical one in the formation of intellectual and professional habits, the period below twenty is more important still for the fixing of personal habits, properly so called, such as vocalization and pronunciation, gesture, motion, and address. Hardly ever is a language learned after twenty spoken without a foreign accent; hardly ever can a youth transferred to the society of his betters unlearn the nasality and other vices of speech bred in him by the associations of his growing years. Hardly ever, indeed, no matter how much money there be in his pocket, can he even learn to dress like a gentleman-born. The merchants offer their wares as eagerly to him as to the veriest swell, 'but he simply cannot buy the right things. An invisible law, as strong as gravitation, keeps him within his orbit, arrayed this year as he was the last; and how his better-bred acquaintances contrive to get the things they wear will be for him a mystery till his dying day.

Today's science has proven that our brains yearn for habits as a means to conserve cognitive energy. From the things we do to the things we believe, our minds create habits and beliefs that cannot easily be untaught. In fact, most psychologists will say that habits cannot be unlearned, but only replaced.

To see changes in social injustices around the world or with existing interpersonal relationships, a study on the habitual thoughts and actions of all parties may be key to finding a solution. As James says, habits are a gravitational force that keep us within our own orbit. To escape such forces usually requires proper motivation, ability, and patience through well planned actions.

May you learn to see the same people each day, newly.