Habits make for specialists. Imagine you wanted to improve your reading skills. If, in an attempt to do so, you would make a habit of reading for an hour everyday starting at 3 pm, would you improve your reading skills or just your reading at 3 pm for an hour skills?
Probably mostly the former, as this is a skill with a high rate of transfer appropriateness.
How about improving your reading skills by reading the same book every day? Reading the book twenty times will not improve your reading skills nearly as much as your “reading this book specifically”-skills.
Videogames provide another good example. I am an above average videogame player in general, a pretty good player of shooters and real-time-strategy games more specifically and, even more specifically, one of the best World in Conflict players in the world.
There is a certain transfer appropriateness between almost all video games, but that between two shooters is much higher than that between a shooter and a racing game.
You want to be a writer? Write. But that alone is not enough. If all you ever write is deconstructions of advertisements, you’ll become very good at writing deconstructions of advertisements, pretty good at writing deconstructions, and not much better at all at writing novels.
Problematically, habit is self-reinforcing; habits have a habit of perpetuating themselves.
“A path once traversed by a nerve-current might be expected to follow the law of most of the paths we know, and to be scooped out and made more permeable than before; and this ought to be repeated with each new passage of the current. Whatever obstructions mays have kept it at first from being a path should then, little by little, and more and more, be swept ouf ot the way, until at last it might become a natural drainage-channel.”
- William James, Habit
“All habits make our hand wittier and our wit unhandier.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft
When you hold a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
So in short, if all you ever do is write deconstructions, your mind will start seeing things to deconstruct everywhere. This is the crucial problem of academics.
Imagine you are the worlds greatest scholar of Derrida. For every problem in the world, you will have a Derridaean answer, ready to evict from your metaphorical gun-mouth-contraption at 300 m/s. But this is no good, this is precisely terrible, precisely the opposite of philosophy.
To be a philosopher, one must traverse every path and perceive from every angle, and this is what habit always seeks to suppress; it makes for easy answers.
If you want to become a writer, write everything.
Write short stories, reviews, poems, essays, letters. (If you want to become good at thinking, think everything – that is, from every angle…)
Habits are a temporary death; as such, habitualization should be reserved for matters not worthy of life’s energy. Sherlock Holmes claims to not know whether the sun spins around the earth or vice versa in an effort to not clutter his memory with trivial information.
Luckily, memory does not work that way (to the contrary, actually; as seems to be the nature of many processes, memory too is improved by using it not conservationally, but as extensively as possible).
The energy for life – whether Freudian or whatever-have-you, details do not matter at all, you can (I hope) imagine the vague concept of such an energy in general – on the other hand, seems to me to be definitely limited.*
Habitualization is to conserve “life energy”. But the one thing where energy should never be conserved is thinking and writing.** thinking is always to be an effort.
You’re a “scholar of _____”? You’re already doing something wrong.
Louis CK doing it right. Watch this video if nothing else.***
* Alternative interpretation: Energy it is not limited, but habitualization expends MORE energy, and resisting habitualization (i.e. making an effort every time) in fact creates energy. Feasible?
** Writing being the process of translating thoughts.
*** Comedians hate it when somebody, at a party, asks them to “be funny” or to tell a joke. Why? Because many of them have not learned how to be funny as much as they have learned to perform funny stand-up. There is a large overlap between the two, but it isn’t the same thing.