How (and Why) to Start the Half Hour Thinking Habit

“Knowledge used does not need to be remembered; practice forms habits and habits make memory unnecessary…”

Yesterday I talked about setting aside a half hour each day to think. But starting a new habit, however splendid, takes work. Since I got this idea from an old book called Thinking As a Science, I’d like to let that author, Henry Hazlitt, give a few further tips on thinking every day.

Introducing the “Saturday Selection”

This also kicks off a new tradition I’ll call the “Saturday Selection.” In my memory research, I’m constantly finding interesting texts. I enjoy peppering my articles with snippets, but every Saturday, I’d like to share a longer selection.

Some of these selections will need tidying up for reading onscreen. I’ll add headings and paragraph breaks.

And now, Hazlitt on the thinking habit:

Practice Makes Memories

But while it is not true that we fail to practice a thing merely because we fail to remember it, it is true that if we do not practice we are not very likely to remember it. The only way we could remember would be by constant rereading, for knowledge unused tends to drop out of mind.

Knowledge used does not need to be remembered; practice forms habits and habits make memory unnecessary…

Hazlitt’s focus is not so much on remembering as on actual thinking. But here, he touches on the vital point: knowledge unused tends to drop out of mind. Flashcards are one way to keep knowledge in mind, but only as random bits. Thinking could be a much more natural solution.

Starting a New Habit Means Stopping an Old Habit

Practice being the thing needful, it is essential that we put aside a certain amount of time for it. Unless you lay out a definite program, unless you put aside, say, one-half hour every day, for pure downright independent thinking, you will probably neglect to practice at all.

One half hour out of every twenty-four seems little enough. You may think you can fit it in with no trouble. But no matter how shamelessly you have been putting in your time, you have been doing something with it.

In order to get in your thirty minutes of thinking, you will have to put aside something which has been habitually taking up a half hour of your day. You cannot expect simply to add thinking to your other activities. Some other activity must be cut down or cut out.

One Half Hour Is So Much Better Than Nothing

You may think me quite lenient in advising only one-half hour a day. You may even go so far as to say that one-half hour a day is not enough. Perhaps it isn’t.

But I am particularly anxious to have some of the advice in this book followed. And I greatly fear that if I advised more than a half hour most readers would serenely neglect my advice altogether.

After you have been able for a month to devote at least one-half hour a day to thinking, you may then, if you choose, extend the time. But if you attempt to do too much at once, you may find it so inconvenient, if not impracticable, that you may give up attempting altogether.

On Actually Following Advice

Throughout the book I have constantly kept in mind that I wish my advice followed. I have therefore laid down rules which may reasonably be adhered to by an average human, rules which do not require a hardened asceticism to apply, and rules which have occasionally been followed by the author himself. In this last respect, I flatter myself, the present differs from most books of advice.

Above all I urge the reader to avoid falling into that habit so prevalent and at the same time so detrimental to character: – acquiescing in advice and not following it. You should view critically every sentence in this book. … But when you agree with any advice you see here, you should make it your business to follow it. The fact that part of the advice may be wrong is no reason why you should not follow the part that is right.

One New Habit at a Time

Most people honestly intend to follow advice, and actually start to do it, but … They try to practice everything at once. As a result they end by practicing nothing.

The secret of practice is to learn thoroughly one thing at a time. As already stated, we act according to habit. The only way to break an old habit or to form a new one is to give our whole attention to the process.

The new action will soon require less and less attention, until finally we shall do it automatically, without thought – in short, we shall have formed another habit. This accomplished we can turn to still others.

You can read this book for free.