Topic Study: Habit

(September 2006  Prepared as a YM/YW Combined Lesson December 2006)


The Mutual theme for 2007 is from D&C 121:45:”…Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.”  Why do you think the YM and YW General Presidencies would have selected this theme?  What in today’s world would cause them to be worried about what youth think about?

I have a habit of reading BYU devotional and fireside addresses on the Internet.  I happened upon one by Elder Carlos E. Asay in the last few months that I think speaks to this topic very well.  It is called “Flaxen Cords (Talk February 7, 1982 BYU Fireside Address).  Much of my lesson today is taken from this talk

Consider this quote which Elder Asay used:  C. A. Hill once said: “We sow our thoughts, and we reap our actions; we sow our actions, and we reap our habits; we sow our habits, and we reap our characters; we sow our characters, and we reap our destiny” (Home Book of Quotations, p. 845).

This scripture, “Let virtue garnish they thoughts unceasingly” begins this little trail.  Let’s consider each of these items in order.

I             Thoughts

Consider the mind of God.  What does God think?  Have you ever considered that God thinks only truth?  He does not think any thought that is not true.  Each member of the Godhead only thinks truth.  Every thought they have is true.  Imagine the unity that is possible when all thoughts of all members are true.

Don’t ever think something, or entertain the thought anyway, that you don’t want to do.

II            Actions

Think of the last time you let someone else borrow something of yours, and you had to show them how it works.  Through using it, you have come to know how it works automatically, but watching how slowly they understood it was painful.  Mark B. Kastleman has written:

Can you imagine if every time you got into your car, you had to consciously refigure out how everything works?  Fortunately, such is not the case.  When we first buy a car, we may have to spend time studying the operator’s manual to gifure out how everything works.  However, after a few weeks, we don’t need to “think” about how to increase the volume on the CD player or how to turn on the rear defrost.  Performing these functions just come naturally.

Our nervous systems have exquisitely organized networks of cells, all waiting for our intention or instructions.  Once our minds “lock onto” a goal, these networks act in harmony to bring it about.  The human nervous system organizes incoming data so that it can function on autopilot.  The brain naturally sets up automatic responses to familiar experiences and events so that we don’t have to take the time to “think” every time we respond.  The formation of habits frees up our attention so we can focus on other, more pertinent things.  When we do something once, the nervous system intiates the processes that will enable it to be repeated more easily in the future.

Habits are the natural goal of your nervous systems.  Our very personalities, “who we are,” are in part made up of the habits we’ve allowed our nervous systems to develop.  While habits increase the efficiency of our responses, they also decrease their flexibility.  Therefore, we should never do once what we don’t want to do again in the future.

The development of habits is facilitated when a pattern of behavior is followed by reward.  The more potent the payoff, the more deeply ingrained becomes the habit. (Mark B. Kastleman, “We Can Bond to Pornography the Way We Were Meant to Bond to a Spouse” Confronting Pornography, Mark D. Chamberlain et. al editors, pp 84 – 85  {Deseret Book, SLC UT 2005})

Don’t ever do something that you don’t want to be a habit.

III           Habits

Use Elder Asay’s approach of trying up someone’s wrists with thread, and have them try to break the thread.  Those are bad habits that restrict movement, choice, and agency.  What would be a demonstration of a good habit?

Elder Wirthlin said in October 2005 conference

In every age we are faced with a choice….

Each choice has a consequence.

Each consequence, a destination.  (“Journey to Higher Ground” Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles )

Analyze your habits, to consider what you will become.

IV          Character

Consider this quote from philosopher and psychologist William James:

The hell to be endured hereafter, of which theology tells, is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world by habitually fashioning our characters in the wrong way. Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state. We are spinning our fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar. The drunken Rip Van Winkle, in Jefferson’s play, excuses himself for every fresh dereliction by saying, “I won’t count this time!” Well! He may not count it, and a kind Heaven may not count it; but it is being counted none the less. Down among his nerve-cells and fibers the molecules are counting it, registering and storing it up to be used against him when the next temptation comes. Nothing we ever do is, in strict scientific literalness, wiped out. Of course this has its good side as well as its bad one. As we become permanent drunkards by so many separate drinks, so we become saints in the moral, and authorities and experts in the practical and scientific spheres, by so many separate acts and hours of work. Let no youth have any anxiety about the upshot of his education, whatever the line of it may be. If he keeps faithfully busy each hour of the working-day, he may safely leave the final result to itself. He can with perfect certainty count on waking up some fine morning, to find himself one of the competent ones of his generation, in whatever pursuit he may have singled out. [Asay, quoted from James, William, The Principles of Psychology, Great Books of the Western World, vol. 53. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952]

Elder Nelson has told us it isn’t what we do, but ultimately what we are that matters.  Character is the expression of what we are, as evidenced by what we have done.

V           Destiny

Talk about the impact of letting virtue garnish our thoughts.  Our confidence, and the doctrine of the priesthood distilling upon our souls.

45  Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

46  The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

D&C 121:45 – 46

VI          Two Cords

…Yea…[the devil] leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever. 2 Ne. 26:22

The threads are almost imperceptible.

What cords would we like to form?

44  That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

D&C 121:44

Tie together the hands of a Man and Wife, to demonstrate that we, through our actions, can make those cords stronger than death


This talk, “Flaxen Cords” by Elder Carlos E. Asay, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, at a fireside address at BYU on 7 February 1982 is very good.

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