Know Thyself — Habits and Skills


A distinction must be made between habit and skill. Skill is defined as an ability to achieve some end result, hitting the target, driving  the car, training a race horse, managing a child, teaching, skiing, performing a surgical operation, filling teeth. Such skills are made up of thousands of habits. Skill at chess depends on years of playing in which different responses have become attached to the thousands of different patterns of the pieces on the board. The skilled chess player makes without hesitation the move that experience has last attached to that situation.

Most of the undesirable behavior of the nervous breakdown, the anesthesias, paralyses, compulsions, tics, seizures, that make life a burden to the psychoneurotic and to his friends are habits. They illustrate the fact that habit, as contrasted with skill, is blind. Habits mean primarily mechanical responses to set cues which are little affected by the rest of the situation. Skills are not blind because they include discriminating habits which adapt behavior to a variety of situations. Knowing when to talk and when to keep silent is a skill. Chronic talkativeness and chronic silence are habitual attitudes. Knowing when to run up to the net and when to stay back is tennis skill, two sets of habits which adjust to two of situations. Smoking is a habit, but the person who smokes and yet never annoys others by it has learned a skill.

Edwin R. Guthrie (1938)

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One thought on “Know Thyself — Habits and Skills

  1. Pingback: Buddha’s Attachment and the White Elephant Purse « Queens and Bees

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