Quotations about   habit

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In a word, our moral dispositions are formed as a result of the corresponding activities. Hence it is incumbent on us to control the character of our activities, since on the quality of these depends the quality of our dispositions. It is therefore not of small moment whether we are trained from childhood in one set of habits or another; on the contrary it is of very great, or rather of supreme, importance.

[καὶ ἑνὶ δὴ λόγῳ ἐκ τῶν ὁμοίων ἐνεργειῶν αἱ ἕξεις γίνονται. διὸ δεῖ τὰς ἐνεργείας ποιὰς ἀποδιδόναι: κατὰ γὰρ τὰς τούτων διαφορὰς ἀκολουθοῦσιν αἱ ἕξεις. οὐ μικρὸν οὖν διαφέρει τὸ οὕτως ἢ οὕτως εὐθὺς ἐκ νέων ἐθίζεσθαι, ἀλλὰ πάμπολυ, μᾶλλον δὲ τὸ πᾶν.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 2, ch. 1 (1103b.20ff) (c. 325 BC) [tr. Rackham (1934), sec. 7-8]
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(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

Or, in one word, the habits are produced from the acts of working like to them: and so what we have to do is to give a certain character to these particular acts, because the habits formed correspond to the differences of these. So then, whether we are accustomed this way or that straight from childhood, makes not a small but an important difference, or rather I would say it makes all the difference.
[tr. Chase (1847)]

And indeed, in a word, all habits are formed by acts of like nature to themselves. And hence it becomes our duty to see that our acts are of a right character. For, as our acts vary, our habits will follow in their course. It makes no little difference, then, to what kind of habituation we are subjected from our youth up; but it is, on the contrary, a matter that is important to us, or rather all-important.
[tr. Williams (1869), sec. 24]

In a word moral states are the results of activities corresponding to the moral states themselves. It is our duty therefore to give a certain character to the activities, as the moral states depend upon the differences of the activities. Accordingly, the difference between one training of the habits and another from early days is not a light matter, but is serious or rather all-important.
[tr. Welldon (1892)]

In a word, acts of any kind produce habits or characters of the same kind. Hence we ought to make sure that our acts be of a certain kind; for the resulting character varies as they vary. It makes no small difference, therefore, whether a man be trained from his youth up in this way or in that, but a great difference, or rather all the difference.
[tr. Peters (1893)]

Thus, in one word, states of character arise out of like activities. This is why the activities we exhibit must be of a certain kind; it is because the states of character correspond to the differences between these. It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.
[tr. Ross (1908)]

In a word, then, states come about from activities that are similar to them. That is why the activities must exhibit a certain quality, since the states follow along in accord with the differences between these. So it makes no small difference whether people are habituated in one way or in another way straight from childhood; on the contrary, it makes a huge one -- or rather, all the difference.
[tr. Reeve (1948)]

In short, it is by similar activities that habits are developed in men; and in view of this, the activities in which men are engaged should be of [the right] quality, for the kinds of habits which develop follow the corresponding differences in these activities. So in acquiring habit it makes no small difference whether we are acting in one way or on the contrary way right from our early youth; it makes a great difference, or rather all the difference.
[tr. Apostle (1975)]

In a word, then, like activities produce like dispositions. Hence we must give our activities a certain quality, because it is their characteristics that determine the resulting dispositions. So it is a matter of no little importance what sort of habits we form from the earliest age -- it makes a vast difference, or rather all the difference in the world.
[tr. Thomson/Tredennick (1976)]

In a word, then, like states arise from like activities. This is why we must give a certain character to our activities, since it is on the differences between them that the resulting states depend. So it is not unimportant how we are habituated from our early days; indeed it makes a huge difference -- or rather all the difference.
[tr. Crisp (2000)]

And so, in a word, the characteristics come into being as a result of the activities akin to them. Hence we must make our activities be of a certain quality, for the characteristics correspond to the differences among the activities. It makes no small difference, then, whether one is habituated to this or that way straight from childhood but a very great difference -- or rather the whole difference.
[tr. Bartlett/Collins (2011)]

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More quotes by Aristotle

Habit is stronger than reason.

George Santayana (1863-1952) Spanish-American poet and philosopher [Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás]
Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, ch. 9 (1900)
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Old women will often bear the lack of food for two or three days. But take food from an athlete for a single day, he will implore the very Olympian Jupiter for whose honor he is in training, and will cry that he cannot bear it. Great is the power of habit.

[Aniculae saepe inediam biduum aut triduum ferunt; subduc cibum unum diem athletae: Iovem, Iovem Olympium, eum ipsum, cui se exercebit, implorabit, ferre non posse clamabit.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Tusculan Disputations [Tusculanae Disputationes], Book 2, ch. 17 / sec. 40 (45 BC) [tr. Peabody (1886)]
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Original Latin. Alternate translations:

Weak old Women oftentimes go without eating two or three days together; do but with-hold Meat one day from a Wrestler, he will cry out upon Olympian Jupiter; the same to whose Honor he shall exercise himself. He will cry he cannot bear it. Great is the Power of Custom.
[tr. Wase (1643)]

You may often hear of diminutive old women living without victuals three or four days; but take away a wrestler's provision for but one day, he will implore Jupiter Olympus, the very god for whom he exercises himself: he will cry out, It is intolerable. Great is the force of custom!
[tr. Main (1824)]

Tender old women often support a fast of two or three days. Withdraw his rations for one day from a wrestler; he will appeal to that Olympic Jove himself, for whom he exercises; he will cry out it impossible to bear it. Great is the force of habit.
[tr. Otis (1839)]

You may often hear of old women living without victuals for three or four days: but take away a wrestler's provisions but for one day, and he will implore the aid of Jupiter Olympius, the very God for whom he exercises himself: he will cry out that he cannot endure it. Great is the force of custom!
[tr. Yonge (1853)]

Feeble old women often endure hunger for two or three days. Take food away from an athlete for just one day. He will appeal to Jupiter, that Olympian Jupiter, the very one for whom he will be doing this training -- he will cry out that he can't bear it. Practice has great power.
[tr. Douglas (1990)]

Little old ladies often bear a two or three day period of fasting; but take away an athlete’s food for a day, and he will beg for relief from Jove! Olympian Jove, the one for whom he exercises! And he’ll tell you that he simply cannot bear it.
[tr. @sentantiq (2015)]

Old women regularly endure a lack of food for a period of three or four days; take from an athlete his food for a single day and he will appeal to olympian Jupiter, the very god in whose honor he trains, he will cry out that he can't bear it. The force of habit is considerable.
[tr. Davie (2017)]

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A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
The Fifth Elephant (1999)
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Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 5, #16

Alt. trans.:
  • "Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts."
  • "Whatever kind of impressions you receive most often, so too will be your mind, for the soul is dyed with the color of one's impressions." [tr. Needleman & Piazza (2008)]
  • "Your manners will depend very much upon the quality of what you frequently think on; for the soul is as it were tinged with the color and complexion of thought." [tr. Collier (1887)]

The last clause is also frequently attributed to William Ralph Inge, who likely used it in an essay.
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Love is the word used to label the sexual excitement of the young, the habituation of the middle-aged, and the mutual dependence of the old.

John Ciardi (1916-1986) American poet, writer, critic
(Attributed)
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I believe that you can reach the point where there is no longer any difference between developing the habit of pretending to believe and developing the habit of believing.

Umberto Eco (1932-2016) Italian semiotician, essayist, philosopher, novelist
Foucault’s Pendulum, ch. 87 (1988) [tr. W. Weaver (1989)]
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See also Hawthorne.
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Character is simply habit long continued.

Plutarch (AD 46-127) Greek historian, biographer, essayist [Mestrius Plutarchos]
Moral Writings [Moralia], “On the Education of Children,” 4.3 [tr. Babbitt and Goodwin]
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Habit is habit, and not to be flung out the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, ch. 6, Epigraph “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar” (1894)
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There was a young belle of old Natchez
Whose garments were always in patchez.
When comment arose
On the state of her clothes,
She drawled, When Ah itchez, Ah scratchez.

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) American poet
“Requiem” (1938)
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The power to become habituated to his surroundings is a marked characteristic of mankind.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
The Economic Consequences of the Peace, ch. 1 (1919)
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Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.

Henry Adams (1838-1918) American journalist, historian, academic, novelist
The Education of Henry Adams, ch. 16 (1907)
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Be as careful of the books you read as of the company you keep, for your habits and character will be as much influenced by the former as the latter.

Edwin Paxton Hood (1820-1885) English nonconformist minister and author
Self-Formation (1858 ed.)
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Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.

Twain - other peoples habits - wist_info quote

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, ch. 15, epigraph (1894)
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Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior.
Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits.
Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
(Attributed)

Never specifically cited, and attributed with variations in the language. Also attributed as a Chinese or Buddhist proverb.
Added on 26-Oct-15 | Last updated 26-Oct-15
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Man is the only animal that learns by being hypocritical. He pretends to be polite and then, eventually, he becomes polite.

Jean Kerr (1922-2003) American author and playwright [b. Bridget Jean Collins]
Finishing Touches, Act 1 (1973)
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Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit, and you reap a character. Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.

Charles Reade (1814-1884) English novelist and dramatist
(Attributed)

Attributed in Notes and Queries, 9th series, vol. 12 (7 Nov 1903). Not found in any of his works, but attributed to many other authors over time. See here for more discussion.
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In short, we can judge by nothing but Appearances, and they are very apt to deceive us. Some put on a gay chearful Outside, and appear to the World perfectly at Ease, tho’ even then, some inward Sting, some secret Pain imbitters all their Joys, and makes the Balance even: Others appear continually dejected and full of Sorrow; but even Grief itself is sometimes pleasant, and Tears are not always without their Sweetness: Besides, Some take a Satisfaction in being thought unhappy, (as others take a Pride in being thought humble,) these will paint their Misfortunes to others in the strongest Colours, and leave no Means unus’d to make you think them thoroughly miserable; so great a Pleasure it is to them to be pitied; Others retain the Form and outside Shew of Sorrow, long after the Thing itself, with its Cause, is remov’d from the Mind; it is a Habit they have acquir’d and cannot leave.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
“A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity” (1725)
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We must be something in order to do something, but we must also do something in order to be something. The best rule, I think, is this: If we find it hard to do good, then let us try to be good. If, on the other hand, we find it hard to be good, then let us try to do good. Being leads to doing, doing leads to being. Yet below both as their common root is faith, — faith in God, in man, in ourselves, in the eternal superiority of right over wrong, truth over error, good over evil, love over all selfishness and all sin.

James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888) American theologian and author
(Attributed)

Quoted in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
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Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Mere Christianity, 4.7 (1952 ed.)
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There is a popular hallucination that makes of authors a romantic people who are entirely dependent upon moods and moments of inspiration for the power to labor in their peculiar way. Authors are supposed to write when they “feel like it,” and at no other time. Visions of Byron with a gin-bottle at his side, and a beautiful woman hanging over his shoulder, dashing off a dozen stanzas of Childe Harold at a sitting, flit through the brains of sentimental youth. We hear of women who are seized suddenly by an idea, as if it were a colic, or a flea, often at midnight, and are obliged to rise and dispose of it in some way. We are told of very delicate girls who carry pencils and cards with them, to take the names and address of such angels as may visit them in out-of-the-way places. We read of poets who go on long sprees, and after recovery retire to their rooms and work night and day, eating not and sleeping little, and in some miraculous way producing wonderful literary creations. The mind of a literary man is supposed to be like a shallow summer brook, that turns a mill. There is no water except when it rains, and the weather being very fickle, it is never known when there will be water. Sometimes, however, there comes a freshet, and then the mill runs night and day, until the water subsides, and another dry time comes on.

Now, while I am aware, as every writer must be, that the brain works very much better at some times than it does at others, I can declare without reservation, that no man who depends upon moods for the power to write can possibly accomplish much. I know men who rely upon their moods, alike for the disposition and the ability to write, but they are, without exception, lazy and inefficient men. They never have accomplished much, and they never will accomplish much.

J. G. Holland (1819-1881) American novelist, poet, editor [Josiah Gilbert Holland; pseud. Timothy Titcomb]
Lessons in Life, Lesson 1 “Moods and Frames of Mind” (1861) [as Timothy Titcomb]
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Discipline should not be practiced like a rule imposed on oneself from the outside, but that it becomes an expression of one’s own will; that it is felt as pleasant, and that one slowly accustoms oneself to a kind of behavior which one would eventually miss, if one stopped practicing it.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) American psychoanalyst and social philosopher
The Art of Loving, ch. 4 (1956)
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If you would not be of an angry temper, then, do not feed the habit. Give it nothing to help it increase. Be quiet at first and reckon the days in which you have not been angry. I used to be angry every day; now every other day; then every third and fourth day; and if you miss it so long as thirty days, offer a of Thanksgiving to God. For habit is first weakened and then entirely destroyed.

Epictetus (c.55-c.135) Greek (Phrygian) Stoic philosopher
The Discourses, ch. 18 (c. AD 101-108)
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Unless we can extensively program our behavior, we waste tremendous amounts of information-processing capacity on trivia. This is why we form habits. Watch a committee break for lunch and then return to the same room: almost invariably its members seek out the same seats they occupied earlier. … Choosing the same seat spares us the need to survey and evaluate other possibilities.

Alvin Toffler (1928-2016) American writer and futurist
Future Shock, ch. 16 (1970)
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Virtues, however, we acquire by first exercising them. The same is true with skills, since what we need to learn before doing, we learn by doing; for example, we become builders by building, and lyre-players by playing the lyre. So too we become just by doing just actions, temperate by temperate actions, and courageous by courageous actions.

[τὰς δ’ ἀρετὰς λαμβάνομεν ἐνεργήσαντες πρότερον, ὥσπερ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν ἄλλων τεχνῶν· ἃ γὰρ δεῖ μαθόντας ποιεῖν, ταῦτα ποιοῦντες μανθάνομεν, οἷον οἰκοδομοῦντες οἰκοδόμοι γίνονται καὶ κιθαρίζοντες κιθαρισταί· οὕτω δὴ καὶ τὰ μὲν δίκαια πράττοντες δίκαιοι γινόμεθα, τὰ δὲ σώφρονα σώφρονες, τὰ δ’ ἀνδρεῖα ἀνδρεῖοι.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 2, ch. 1 (1103a.32ff) (c. 325 BC) [tr. Crisp (2000)]
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(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

But the Virtues we get by first performing single acts of working, which, again, is the case of other things, as the arts for instance; for what we have to make when we have learned how, these we learn how to make by making: men come to be builders, for instance, by building; harp-players, by playing on the harp: exactly so, by doing just actions we come to be just; by doing the actions of self-mastery we come to be perfected in self-mastery; and by doing brave actions brave.
[tr. Chase (1847)]

But the virtues we acquire by previous practice of their acts, exactly as we acquire our knowledge of the various arts. For, in the case of the arts, that which we have to be taught to do, that we learn by doing it. We become masons, for instance, by building; and harpers b y playing upon the harp. And so, in like manner, we become just by doing what is just, temperate by doing what is temperate, and brave by doing what is brave.
[tr. Williams (1869), sec. 23]

But the virtues we acquire by first exercising them, as is the case with all the arts, for it is by doing what we ought to do when we have learnt the arts that we learn the arts themselves; we become e.g. builders by building and harpists by playing the harp. Similarly it is by doing just acts that we become just, by doing temperate acts that we become temperate, by doing courageous acts that we become courageous.
[tr. Welldon (1892)]

But the virtues we acquire by doing the acts, as is the case with the arts too. We learn an art by doing that which we wish to do when we have learned it; we become builders by building, and harpers by harping. And so by doing just acts we become just, and by doing acts of temperance and courage we become temperate and courageous.
[tr. Peters (1893)]

But the virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyreplayers by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.
[tr. Ross (1908)]

The virtues on the other hand we acquire by first having actually practised them, just as we do the arts. We learn an art or craft by doing the things that we shall have to do when we have learnt it: for instance, men become builders by building houses, harpers by playing on the harp. Similarly we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.
[tr. Rackham (1934), ch. 1, sec. 4]

The virtues, by contrast, we acquire by first engaging in the activities, as is also true in the case of the various crafts. For the things we cannot produce without learning to do so are the very ones we learn to produce by producing them -- for example, we become builders by building houses and lyre players by playing the lyre. Similarly, then, we become just people by doing just actions, temperate people by doing temperate actions, and courageous people by doing courageous ones.
[tr. Reeve (1948)]

In the case of the virtues, on the other hand, we acquire them as a result of prior activities; and this is like the case of the arts, for that which we are to perform by art after learning, we first learn by performing, e.g., we become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre. Similarly, we become just by doing what is just, temperate by doing what is temperate, and brave by doing brave deeds.
[tr. Apostle (1975)]

Virtues, by contrast, we acquire, just as we acquire crafts, by having previously activated them. For we learn a craft by producing the same product that we must produce when we have learned it, becoming builders, for instance, by building and harpists by playing the harp, so also, then, we become just by doing just actions, temperate by doing temperate actions, brave by doing brave actions.
[tr. Irwin/Fine (1995)]

For as regards those things we must learn how to do, we learn by doing them -- for example by building houses, people become house builders, and by playing the cithara, they become cithara players. So too, then, by doing just things become just; moderate things, moderate; and courageous things, courageous.
[tr. Bartlett/Collins (2011)]

We develop virtues after we have practiced them beforehand, the same way it works with the other arts. For, we learn as we do those very things we need to do once we have learned the art completely. So, for example, men become carpenters by building homes and lyre-players by practicing the lyre. In the same way, we become just by doing just things, prudent by practicing wisdom, and brave by committing brave deeds.
[tr. @sentantiq (2017)]

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The hell to be endured hereafter, of which theology tells, is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world by habitually fashioning our characters in the wrong way. Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state. We are spinning our own fates, good or evil. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar.

William James (1842-1910) American psychologist and philosopher
The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1, ch. 4 “Habit” (1890)
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This chapter originally published in Popular Science Monthly (Feb 1887).
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Choose the best life; for habit will make it pleasant.

Epictetus (c.55-c.135) Greek (Phrygian) Stoic philosopher
Fragment 144

Sometimes attributed to Francis Bacon.
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Routine is the death to heroism.

P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) Anglo-American humorist, playwright and lyricist [Pelham Grenville Wodehouse]
“The Man Upstairs” (1914)
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To keep your character intact you cannot stoop to filthy acts. It makes it easier to stoop the next time.

Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) American actress
Quoted in “Hepburn: She is the Best,” Los Angeles Times (24 Nov 1974)
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Marriage must continually vanquish the monster that devours everything, the monster of habit.

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) French novelist, playwright
Physiology of Marriage (1829)

Alt. trans.: "Marriage must constantly fight against a monster which devours everything: routine."
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Habit with him was all the test of truth,
“It must be right: I’ve done it from my youth.”

George Crabbe (1754-1832) English poet, writer, surgeon, clergyman
The Borough, Letter 3 “The Vicar,” l. 138 (1810)
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If we attend continually and promptly to the little that we can do, we shall ere long be surprised to find how little remains that we cannot do.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
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“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh, what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
“It’s the same thing,” he said.

A. A. Milne (1882-1956) English poet and playwright [Alan Alexander Milne]
Winnie-the-Pooh (1926)
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I have not been afraid of excess: excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of a habit.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up, ch. 15 (1938)
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Do something every day that you don’t want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 58, epigraph (1897)

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We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics (c. 350 BC) (paraphrase)

Variants: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." "We are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit."

Not actually Aristotle, but a summary by  Will Durant,  The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers (1926), ch. II "Aristotle and Greek Science," Part VII "Ethics and the Nature of Happiness" (1926):
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; 'these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions'; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit: 'the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life... for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.'"
The quoted phrases are from the Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, ch. 4; Book 1, ch. 7.
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