Strengthening the Habits of Virtue

From ‘Do What Comes Naturally…But Work at it‘:

Lab research shows that human beings have a limited amount of will-power in any given situation. That is why, if you try to run the Christian life on will-power alone, sooner or later you’ll run into trouble when confronting a big temptation. It is good for each of us to work on gradually increasing our will-power, which we can do through practicing ascetic disciplines; however, the surest defense against temptation lies not in will-power but in habituation. The thousands of tiny choices we face every day are opportunities to strengthen the habits of virtue, to make right behavior natural for us. It’s in all these small choices—the things that don’t seem very important to us at the time—that virtue becomes habituated and we gradually develop the inner resources to remain faithful in the face of more challenging circumstances and temptations. The decisions to serve others, to recall our minds back to prayer when we begin thinking about ourselves, to be patient with those who annoy us, to practice impulse control when we begin mindlessly surfing online, to practice attentiveness towards those we love, to constantly shift loss-frames to gain-frames, to practice mindfulness to control our brains—these and hundreds of other choices we face every day are opportunities to define the types of behaviors that become habituated in us, so that when we find ourselves in an extremely challenging situation, we won’t have to rely on will-power alone, but can act automatically out of habit.

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