Habits and Epictetus

If you have given way to anger, be sure that over and above the evil involved therein, you have strengthened the habit, and added fuel to the fire. If overcome by a temptation of the flesh, do not reckon it a single defeat, but that you have also strengthened your dissolute habits. Habits and faculties are necessarily affected by the corresponding acts. Those that were not there before, spring up: the rest gain in strength and extent.

(LXXV, The Golden Sayings of Epictetus, trans. by Hastings Crossley, 1909)

Often, the rationalization given at a moment is that one will do it just the once. Epictetus is exactly right. “Do not reckon it a single defeat.” If one can impress that upon one’s mind, it should strengthen one’s resolve – more is at stake than an isolated act.

The flip side to this state of affairs is that doing something that would lead to a good habit also affects the corresponding habits and faculties.

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