Chapter 11 – Twelve Disciplines
THERE are dozens of small ways by which we can make our minds both keener and more flexible – two qualities peculiarly necessary for those who intend to live successfully. We all succumb too easily to the temptation to find a routine which works out so that we get our day’s tasks done with a minimum of effort and conscious attention; a fact which might have no unfortunate effects on us at all if we used the time we save by our routines to good purpose. But the cold truth is that we do nothing of the sort. We apply the routine-observing tendency to our whole lives, growing mentally and spiritually more flaccid, more timorous, less experimental with every day we spend supported by the rigidity of habit.
Habit takes care of most of our ordinary activities; we get through our work by using only that part of our intellect which has been trained to consider the work’s specific problems (often trained painfully and protesting); when we meet a novel thought or situation, we fall back on an analogy and act according to the prejudice or emotion which that arouses in us. Even those of us who rather solemnly undertake programs of self-improvement seldom use more than one set of mental muscles, gathering a number of facts about this subject or that, and considering ourselves “improved” if we learn something about the religions of India, or the work of Charles Dickens, or the birds of Southern California.
This would be harmless enough if it were not for the complacency which attends it.
Fact gathering is one activity of the intellect; and where a little training in independent judgment has accompanied or preceded it, so that correct conclusions concerning the facts are independently reached, it is a valuable one. But such programs alone do not exercise the mind to its fullest extent, to make an instantaneously useful tool of it, or give one the power to call on all its resources at will.
Even those who think of themselves as extraordinarily hard workers are not in the state of mental training, usually, which allows them to get the most from their lives.
One great reason is pointed out over and over by Dr. Alexis Carrel in his book Man, the Unknown: the benefits of civilization are not unmixed blessings. We are no longer called on to meet the extremes of heat and cold, for instance, to go through alternate periods of plenty and scarcity of food; universal lighting turns night into day everywhere, and the newspapers and radio entertain us so that we seldom look to ourselves for our own resources. Healthy man has a great capacity for adaption, and, says Dr. Carrel, “the exercise of the adaptive functions appears to be indispensable to the optimum development of man.” We have allowed ourselves to soften, to abandon our ingenuity, to escape responsibility whenever possible, till we grow to fear and abhor the very word “discipline.”
Yet discipline is undergoing restraint in order to develop the qualities necessary for a full life. Mental discipline should connote the equivalent in the sphere of the mind which the athlete undertakes for perfecting his body. We should first take stock of our minds; and then set to work on them to strengthen them here, make them more flexible there, stretch them somewhat, teach them to be more exact – in short, put them through their paces so that we get the maximum use and advantage from them.
In order to do so, we must learn to be arbitrary with ourselves – by no means an easy matter for a generation which has not only been softened by material conveniences, but has been given the dubious benefit of being allowed to “psychologize” about itself day in and day out. Some of us dread and dislike restraint, even when self imposed for a sound purpose, to such an extent that we live our lives between habit and impulse under the impression that only so can we be wholly free. But “Freedom,” says Aristotle, “is obedience to self-formulated rules,” and the definition holds as good today as two thousand years ago.
We must work to get back tone and muscle into our lives until it is possible to stop one activity and turn to another, varying the approach, stroke, strength behind the effort, and so on, with as much agility and deftness as a skillful tennis player uses to meet the shifting play of a good opponent. If we could know each day just the necessities we should be called on to meet, we could prepare ourselves in advance, and flexibility and ingenuity would be uncalled for. Since that does not happen, we must get ourselves into training to meet the infinite calls on us, instead of, as we usually do, discharging easily only one or two matters which are natively congenial to us, and getting through the others awkwardly, blindly.
The disciplines suggested here are drawn from all over the world. Readers of philosophy and religion will find procedures they have met before, recommended by the wise men of many countries: there are disciplines from India and Spain, from Greece and China – and from any girl’s finishing school! Some of them are common to every country which teaches any kind of mental or spiritual discipline, such as that of observing set periods of silence. None of them is “arbitrary” in the sense of “pointless”; each develops or strengthens a faculty of the mind which should be kept in good condition if a life is to be led purposefully and under one’s own control.
Not all of them will be equally valuable to all cases; but before rejecting any one of them examine yourself to discover if you are not possibly throwing it aside simply because it does ask you to put a little more restraint on yourself than you find pleasurable. Most of them will be difficult at some stage, attended by something in the mental realm like the stiffness and soreness which follow using a new muscle in athletic training. But you can exercise muscle only by submitting it to some sort of resistance; you must feel at least slightly uncomfortable to have the assurance that your exercise is doing the work you are asking of it. So, in following these mental exercises, unless there is some discomfort from observing each one fully, unless there is some protest arising from interrupted habits and novel ways of action, it may be that the discipline in question is not one that you really need. Replace it, in that case, with another which calls on you for some endurance and effort.
The Twelve Disciplines
1. The first exercise is to spend an hour every day without saying anything except in answer to direct questions. This should be done in the midst of your usual group, and without giving anyone the impression that you are sulking or suffering from a bad headache. Present as ordinary an appearance as possible; simply do not speak.
Answer questions just to their limit, aid no further; give a full and adequate answer, but do not continue with volunteered remarks which are suggested by the answer or question, and do not attempt in any way to draw another question from your interlocutor. Oddly enough, this is a difficult discipline for even a normally taciturn person. We are all so used to breaking into speech wherever we meet one another, merely in order to give evidence of our friendliness and accessibility, that we talk almost constantly whenever there is an opportunity.
This discipline is found in almost every country which is the home of a genuinely old religion. It is of immense value, and productive of many different results. Probably no two experimenters ever have identical reactions to this practice; they will vary according to temperaments. One thing which soon becomes apparent to many, for instance, is that we seldom say exactly what we mean at our first attempt. We rush into speech, see by the expression on another’s face that we have not made ourselves entirely clear, or have misspoken in some way, and try again. This likewise may not make our intention understood; we try again. We pause a moment, think the matter over, issue a clearer statement. But in the meanwhile there are those three earlier attempts to express ourselves still remaining in our hearers’ minds, beclouding the issue.
One man, reporting on this experiment, said that he seemed at first not to be there at all. Then there was a period when he felt that he, in his silence, filled the whole room and had the experience of seeing it all impersonally. As long as he talked, wherever he stood was, naturally, the center of his scene; silent, the group “composed” with a different emphasis. When his hour was over he saw himself sometimes in the center, sometimes on the circumference, occasionally entirely outside the interests around him.
Another man recorded that when his silence began to make itself felt the friends he was with acted most illuminatingly. Not quite aware what made the occasion unusual, two of them were definitely ill at ease. One thereupon became extremely ingratiating, a second truculent and then downright hostile, arriving at the point of charging his silent friend with feeling “superior” just as the hour was up and speech could be resumed. A third man, heretofore the quietest of the group of friends, turned extremely talkative, as though to retrieve a balance he felt endangered, relapsing into silence when the observer began to talk naturally again.
A woman reported, with much amusement, that she had never had such a personal success in her life as during the hour she sat silent and smiling at a party. Her silence seemed to act as a magnet and a challenge in a way her gaiety had never done.
All experimenters, however, agreed on one matter: while the silence lasted a sense of mastery grew in them. When they resumed speech it was with the sense of using speech definitely and purposefully, and always with the knowledge that the resort of silence could be found at Meredith which she said she had never fully understood.
One concluded her report with a sentence from before: “It is the silence of the god we fear, not his wrath; Silence is the unbearable repartee.”
2. Learn to think for half-an-hour a day exclusively on one subject. Simple as this sounds, it is at first ludicrously hard to do. The novice should begin by thinking on his solitary subject for five minutes a day at first, increasing the period daily till the half hour has been attained. To begin with, a concrete object should be chosen: a flower, a bottle of ink, a scarf. Do not have it before you; build it up in your mind. With a flower, for instance, describe it to yourself as each of the senses would report it.
When that is done, go on to how it grows and where; what it symbolizes, if anything; what uses are made of it. From this simple beginning, work up to considering a concrete problem, and, finally, to an abstraction. Start with subjects which really interest you, but when you have taught your mind not to wander even for a moment, begin choosing a subject by pointing your finger at random on a newspaper or the page of a book, and think on the first idea suggested by the lines you have touched.
You will find it very revealing to start this exercise with a pencil and pad, and to make a slight check on the paper whenever you find your attention slipping. If you are really quick to realize when your mind has begun to wander, you will find your paper very full for the first few days. Fortunately, improvement in this is fairly rapid.
At the end of a week in some cases, at the end of a month even in refractory ones, the pad will be found nearly blank at the end of your half-hour. The value of this exercise must be obvious to anyone who hopes to engage in original work, or to introduce new procedures of any sort. At first it is wise to practice this when alone; but eventually you should be able to do it even in the midst of distractions, such as when traveling to and from work.
(Note carefully that the recommendation is not to hold one’s mind immobile on one object, as in some Indian disciplines or in the Christian process called “recollection.” You are to think about one subject only; no more than that. The other practice induces a slightly hypnoidal state, and is not suitable to our purposes here.) This, of course, is simply the “application” and “concentration” which was preached to every one of us in our school days, it is very revealing, none the less, to see how imperfectly we learned that lesson then or at any subsequent time! Once it is learned, it is of immense benefit. Anyone who is capable of it, for instance, can pick up a foreign language in very short order. The accent may be barbarous, unless one has learned phonetics early, but books and newspapers can be easily read, and enough of a vocabulary to get around in the strange land can be acquired in less than a month.
Moreover, in any competitive performance, the one who has trained himself to think steadily, without deflection, will arrive at his conclusion first. But the advantages of this are too obvious to need emphasizing further.
3. Write a letter without once using the following words: I, me, my, mine. Make it smooth and keep it interesting. If the recipient of the letter notices that there is something odd about it, the exercise has failed.
This practice, and others like it, again allows us to see ourselves in perspective. In order to write a good letter of the sort, it is necessary to turn the mind outward, to give up for a while the preoccupations and obsessions with our own affairs. We come back to our own lives refreshed.
4. Talk for fifteen minutes a day without using I, me, my, mine.
5. Write a letter in a “successful” or placid tone. No actual misstatements are allowed.
No posing as successful, no lying. Simply look for aspects or activities which can be honestly reported in this way and confine you letter to them. Indicate by the letter’s tone that you are, at the moment of writing, not discouraged in any way.
There is a double purpose here. First, it is a simple way of turning from a negative and discouraging attitude towards a positive and healthy one. However unpromising the prospect for finding enough good items for a letter may appear at first, one soon discovers that a number of matters are going smoothly and well, but that they have been ignored while one centers on disappointment and frustration. Second, and more important, such a letter as this, sent to almost every correspondent you have, will remove one great stumbling-block to the successful conduct of your affairs.
Letter writing is a task we usually tuck into an odd corner of our day. When we have nothing to do and feel listless, bored, tired or depressed, we take pen in hand and write to our dear ones! We send low-spirited, unhappy notes about, and reap the natural consequences: consolatory or sympathetic letters come in answer. Sometimes they come when we are feeling fairly well, or in really high spirits; but it is a heroic character who can resist the chance to feel sorry for himself. We have the choice, reading these answers which we have invited, of slipping back into the mood of martyrdom and self-pity, or of feeling distinctly silly. It is far more dramatic to feel sad again than to feel silly; so we go on in our vicious circle, and send the latest bad news when we write again. A complete holiday from self-pity and depressions is necessary to success.
6. And this exercise comes directly from all the finishing schools for young ladies that ever existed: pause on the threshold of any crowded room you are to enter, and consider for a moment your relation to those who are in it Many a retiring and quiet woman can thank this small item of her school training for her ability to handle competently situations which seem, as though they would be embarrassing and exacting for anyone so sheltered. It was for years (and may be still, for all I know) the custom to teach young girls to stop just a moment at the door of the room they were entering until they had found their hostess, and then the guest of honor. (Failing such guest, the oldest person in the room was to be singled out.) Then the room was entered, the young guest going, as soon as her hostess was free, straight to her to be welcomed and to “make her manners.” She then watched for the first opportunity to speak for a few minutes to the guest of honor; and not until she had discharged these obligations was she free to follow any other plans or inclinations of her own. The girl who thoroughly learned this lesson learned something which is invaluable to everyone: to size up a roomful of people at a glance, discover what it holds, first in the way of obligation and then in the way of companionship or one’s own interests.
There is a kind of nonsensical notion abroad today that to take such conscious forethought about any occasion is to be a hypocrite or a snob, that there is some virtue in rushing pell-mell into any situation, snatching what offers itself without difficulty, and foregoing the rest. There is no danger that you will really be acting “artificially” if you give yourself a moment to foresee the various possibilities and relationships in the occasion you are about to live through. You will simply have taken care not to be stampeded into doing something uncongenial to you, of getting caught in a backwater of conversation which touches none of your real interests, or of running the risk of missing a chance to talk to a real friend, or someone whose conversation will bring you something of value. However consciously we plan our lives, there is still enough margin of the unforeseen and the unexpected to keep us from any danger of losing spontaneity, but the ideal is to have as much of our lives within our voluntary control as possible. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, we are not able to bring about what we want in that moment of anticipation; if we have taken the trouble to see all the possibilities before us, we can turn to a secondary interest easily, not missing every opportunity because we were disappointed in one.
7. When the above exercise is learned or recaptured, go on to an old piece of advice from seventeenth century France: keep a new acquaintance talking about himself or herself without allowing him to become conscious of what you are doing. Turn back, at first, any courteous reciprocal questions in such a way that your auditor does not feel rebuffed. You will find a genuine interest rising in you for your companion; soon, if you are at all kindly or imaginative, you will find yourself engrossed. The last, lingering trace of self-consciousness will drop from you. It may be that you will not be asked about yourself. That makes no difference; at the very least you have learned a little more about how the world looks to another, and have extended your horizon.
If, on the other hand, you do talk of yourself in response to later questions, you will know just how much to say, what interests you have in common, whether you could ever find the friendship of that person desirable.
(Perhaps it needs to be said plainly that acting consciously need not mean acting coldly. Not a grain of real humanity is sacrificed by having the reins of action in one’s own hands; rather the contrary. An outgoing effort is voluntarily undertaken and carried on; instead of being so totally engrossed in ourselves that we know nothing of the moods or interests of others except as they affect us, we escape by the pleasantest road from our restricting egotism. The other party to the experiment, far from being a victim of coldblooded planning, is for once assured of not being victimized by our blind selfishness.)
8. The exact opposite of the above exercises, and infinitely harder to do with intention: Talk exclusively about yourself and your interests without complaining, boasting or (if possible) boring your companion. Make yourself and your activities as interesting as you can to the person to whom you are talking.
This is an excellent discipline for those who ordinarily talk too much about themselves. This reductio ad absurdum of their weakness brings them face to face with the ordeal which they are putting their friends through at every opportunity.
When concentrated talking about one’s own interests is undertaken consciously, every sign of indifference, of boredom, of restiveness or impatience, of desire to introduce another topic of conversation which may escape us while we are neurotically self-absorbed, is only too plainly seen. Both the exercise and the weakness will be abandoned gratefully after one or two occasions.
However, there are other things to be gained from this. It soon becomes apparent that talking about the trivial, the commonplace, the recurring incidents of one’s life leads to certain ennui in our hearers. If, on the other hand, we have had genuinely interesting experiences, have been more imaginative in a situation than usual, are undertaking something new, we are likely to hold our audience. The conclusion that in that case perhaps we might profit by extending our interests, undertaking new adventures, or bringing more imagination to our everyday lives can hardly be escaped. We soon learn to discard a report of our latest attack of illness, the most recent exploit of our offspring, the remarkable intelligence of our pets, today’s example of our bad luck, as opening gambits in adult conversation. If you are with someone who is still a slave to that kind of word-wasting, consciously introduce a subject of more depth or wider interest when it is your turn to speak. If you discover that he or she stubbornly resists all such invitations to better talk, you have a decision to make.
There may be, in spite of all limitations, such warmth, sweetness, genuine feeling in even a limited friend that one can under no circumstances think of abandoning the relationship. On the other hand, we sometimes discover, to our surprised dismay, that we have attached someone to ourselves for no better reason than that in his presence we can babble on about the trivialities of our lives, though there is no deep bond between us. To withdraw from that association as soon as is consistent without hurting the other party, to refuse to continue to waste your own energy and time, or connive in the wasting of his, is a plain obligation. If you have been guilty (as most of us have) of forming such an association-in-weakness, the first effort at correction should be to see whether you can not transform it into a genuine friendship, stimulating and strengthening; only when you must give up all hope of that should the relationship be dropped.
9. The correction of the “I-mean,” the “As-a-matter-of-fact” habit, takes cooperation. If you realize that you have picked up a verbal mannerism, call on the friend to whom you talk most fluently and emotionally. It is fairly easy to control such a mannerism in the presence of someone we hardly know, but in the heat of discourse the offending phrase will crop up in every other sentence. Tell the friend that you are saying “and so on,” for instance, to the point of absurdity. Ask him to watch for it, and to hold up his hand without interrupting the conversation whenever he hears you use it. The talk which follows will be choppy, and there is likely for a while to be more laughter than conversation, but you will begin to get the habit in hand. Two or three sessions will entirely eradicate the phrase – except when you actually want to use it.
10. Plan two hours of a day and live according to the plan.
If you are working by yourself as a free lance, any day will do. If not, choose a Sunday or holiday to experiment on. Make the schedule partly according to your usual habit, partly unlike it. As for instance:
7:30-8 Breakfast and newspaper
8:20-9:25 Arrange books according to subject matter
9:25-9:30 Telephone (if on weekday) for some appointment you have been putting off.
If Sunday or holiday, go out for a walk.
The complexity or diversity of the items has very little to do with this practice. The point is to turn from one activity to the next, not at the approximate minute of your schedule, but on the exact moment. If you are only halfway through the newspaper, that’s very sad. But down it must go, and you open your mail – hitherto disregarded. If this is a day without an incoming mail, the twenty minutes go to letter writing. If you have time to spare, send a card or two, or make notes for another letter on another day. Wherever you are at 8:20 with your correspondence, you stop and turn to the arranging of books. One of your planned activities, at least, should promise a fair amount of interest to you. If it is not arranging books, then clipping articles from a magazine can replace it, or even straightening a room thoroughly.
The twin purposes of this discipline are, first, to give ourselves the experience of being under orders again, and, second, to demonstrate how badly we lose our sense of the time necessary to accomplish any stipulated activity. Every printer that ever lived, probably, has grumbled at an editor or make up man who wants to crowd too many letters on a line, complaining that “he must think we’ve got rubber type.” Well, most of us think our days have rubber hours. Even those suburbanites who have learned by long experience that it is just seventeen minutes to a second from the shower-bath to the railroad station will nonchalantly plan to cram the work of half a day into a couple of hours after lunch. We expect time to be infinitely accommodating, we refuse to admit that it cannot be. But it is possible to learn – by planning, first, two hours of a day, then three, then four, and so on till we have planned and lived an effective, eight hour day (at the least) – to use time to the best advantage. Rigid scheduling of a whole day is not always possible or even desirable, but a few days lived by time-table now and again will refresh our sense of the value of time and teach us what we can expect of ourselves when we do not waste it.
For those who need really stern warning about this: one psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Bousfeld, holds that the sure sign of the incurable egotist is that he never allows for the actual amount of time any given activity will take. Firmly, though unconsciously, believing that the world revolves around him, certain of his magical power to arrest the progress of the sun and the moon, he goes through life astonished at the refractoriness of Time in not meeting him halfway. He is always late to appointments, behind in his obligations, constantly assuming more work or accepting more invitations than he could keep if he were twins. He either learns the error of his ways or comes to a bad end.
11. This is the most difficult of all. It will seem so arbitrary to many readers that they will not even try to apply it. It is arbitrary; that is its very essence. It is less necessary for those living in the midst of large families than for persons living alone, or those who are alone most of the time. Remembering the quotation given before from Dr. Cairel, arrange to put yourself into situations where you must act non-habitually, where you must adapt yourself. Members of the Army, the Navy, the priesthood, some societies, are constantly in a state of living under orders; and we recognize in them a resiliency that is absent from the characters of most men and women who live according to their own convenience. It is not easy to get this resiliency back into our lives, but it is a quality too valuable to be lost. If the following recommendation seems somewhat too dramatic, almost too ridiculous, be assured that the results will show the worth of the discipline.
On a number of slips of paper – twelve will do to start with – write instructions like these: “Go twenty miles from home, using ordinary conveyance.” (In other words, don’t just get out a car or hire a taxi, if you can afford it, and drive somewhere. Take streetcars, buses, ferries, subways.) “Go twelve hours without food.”
“Go eat a meal in the unlikeliest place you can find.” A restaurant in a totally foreign quarter of a city is good here. Asking for food at a farm-house is better, if you are hardy enough to be so unconventional.
“Say nothing all day except in answer to questions.” “Stay up all night and work.”
And this, by the way, is the most valuable order of them all. You must plan to work steadily and quietly, resisting every temptation to lie down for a few moments, but relaxing very slightly against the chair-back every hour or so, bracing yourself to your work again the moment lassitude threatens to overcome you. Only those who have actually done this realize that there are depths to our minds which we seldom plumb, accustomed as we are to succumb to the first attack of fatigue, or staying awake only so long as we have outer stimulation.
Seal these slips of paper in twelve envelopes, shuffle them thoroughly and put them in a drawer. Whenever you think of it, shuffle them again. Every other week, or on a given day of each month, pick one of the envelopes, open it, and perform your own command. It may be raining pitchforks on the day you command yourself to travel twenty miles by common carrier; nevertheless, unless your state of health absolutely forbids it, you go. If you are doing an intensive piece of work, one monthly exercise of this sort is enough. If not, the oftener you can be arbitrary with yourself – without turning into a restless jumping jack, it goes without saying – the better for your character eventually.
There need not be twelve different orders on your slips. If you can think of activities which are genuinely difficult for you to do, which go against the grain but which you yet know would be valuable training for you, include them. One young man of my acquaintance who was abnormally shy insisted to himself that he should get into conversation with at least three strangers daily. Any activity you choose should be both corrective and unusual, cutting abruptly across your usual routine.
12. An alternative method is this: from time to time give yourself a day on which you say “Yes” to every request made of you which is at all reasonable. The more you tend to retire from society in your leisure, the more valuable this will be. You may find yourself invited to go sleigh riding in your twenty-four hours; you may be invited to change your job. The sleigh-ride should certainly be accepted, however much you may hate straw, thick blankets and cold weather. The job-changing, fortunately, can be submitted to examination, since it is only “reasonable” activities which you are to undertake without second thought. Don’t be afraid nothing will occur on that day; it is astonishing how many small requests we can turn aside daily rather than interrupt our even course. The consequences may be wide-reaching, often educative, sometimes extremely advantageous. Nevertheless do not jump to the conclusion that because one day of the sort has brought so many interesting possibilities to light, every day should be led in that manner. On the contrary; to deny oneself an opportunity now and again is fully as illuminating, particularly for those who waste too much time in party-going, theaters, and so on. Such persons should plan to refuse many invitations, and spend the time in intensive self-cultivation.
On this system, work out other disciplines which are good for your individual case.
There are two ways of making them. First, become aware of some weakness or inadequate performance on your part; then decide, perhaps after experiment, whether the way to correct it is to set yourself to doing the exact opposite, or whether – as in curing the habit of talking too much about one’s own interests – acting a ludicrous and over – emphasized parody of the failing will be more effective.
Once you get the idea, you will find these disciplines not only helpful but genuinely amusing. In many cases they replace the rather haphazard puzzle-solving activities which call on somewhat the same capacities. In matching your wits against yourself you take on the shrewdest and wiliest antagonist you can have, and consequently a victorious outcome in this duel of wits brings a great feeling of triumph. At last, when one is in training, one can call at will on any of the mental traits which have been strengthened or exercised in these ways and find that it performs exactly and quickly.
But, as yon begin to take pleasure in these exercises, remind yourself that they are means, not ends. In getting control of your mind you are not yet using it officially, so to speak. You are still in your probationary period. Have you ever met one of those health-seekers who eat just so many ounces of food per day, walk just so many miles or play just so many games of handball, sit in the sun or under a sun lamp just so many minutes – and then lead the dullest of personal lives? He has made himself into a magnificently healthy creature – for no purpose whatsoever. You are training your mind in order to engage it in definite activity, so do not put off too long the matter of getting at your original plans.
Still considering what aids we can find to successful living, but now in the way of direct support for ourselves, there are various ways in which we can make the process smoother. One of the best is to follow the suggestion of Franklin, in his Autobiography, and to check daily on our progress by means of a small, specially prepared notebook. Franklin himself drew up a list of thirteen Virtues, and under each wrote a maxim embodying the sense of that virtue to his mind. For instance, under Temperance he wrote “Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation”; under Silence: “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation”; and so went on, through Order, Resolution, Frugality and the rest. It is hardly possible to draw up a better set, but – and perhaps it is one more sign of the softening of the race – for most purposes the six matters which we find most troublesome will seem quite enough for our present. Each will have his own set of faults to be corrected.
But let us say, for instance, that you decide you could do more work if you would; that you are shy, that you take too long to make up your mind; that you talk too much (and timidity and talkativeness are by no means mutually exclusive vices); that you eat at odd hours or the wrong things; that you sleep too long (or not enough). Your notebook page should look like this:
The checks represent your estimate of the number of times you successfully resisted the temptation to act in the unsatisfactory way. As you find yourself able to fill any of the squares of your notebook each day – in other words, when you have eradicated the trouble-making fault – you can retire that classification and replace it with another which you may have noticed. If you soon outgrow the need of the notebook, splendid. It can be kept in a convenient drawer, though, as a reminder.
Then there is the matter of getting into the day. Those who wake fully each morning would find it hard to believe how many of their fellows suffer from not being fully in command of their faculties in the morning. If you belong to the latter crew, don’t hesitate to imitate the Katherine Mansfield hero who woke, opened his eyes, and saw the sign he had put up for himself: “Get out of bed at once.”
What is more, if you know – as so many of us do – that at midnight you have a genuine inspiration which your morning’s prosaic mood leads you to disregard, write yourself a note about it. Be pretty firm about the matter; put it sharply. Say to yourself, in writing, “You’re an idiot if you don’t at least see whether Macy’s would like that idea. Make an appointment today!” Often nothing more is needed to make the prosy, unimaginative daylight mood break up and allow the intenser one to return.
One of the most famous men in America constantly sends himself post-cards, and occasionally notes. He explained the card-sending as being his way of relieving his memory of unnecessary details. In his pocket he carries a few postals addressed to his office. I was with him one threatening day when he looked out the restaurant window, drew a card from his pocket and wrote on it. Then he threw it across the table to me with a grin. It was addressed to himself at his office, and said “Put your raincoat with your hat.” At the office he had other cards addressed to himself at home.
Rewarding oneself for successful work – even in addition to the success – is another way of promoting proper action. If you get yourself some small luxury when, and only when, your notebook shows a week of satisfactory marks, you may go to slightly more trouble to turn away from your faults.
Get into the habit of being both strict and friendly toward yourself: demand a certain standard of performance; approve of yourself, even reward yourself, if you attain it.
Far too often we pursue just the wrong tactics. When we should be acting we indulge or excuse ourselves for inactivity we then upbraid and punish ourselves ruthlessly and futilely. The scolding is futile because we somehow feel that, if we have been severe and cutting to ourselves, we have in some way atoned for the fault of non-performance. We have not, of course. We have not done what we planned, and we have discouraged and hurt ourselves into the bargain.
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