Make a habituation plan for the coming months
Now is the time to become very practical and define a habituation plan for the coming months. By the end of this section, you should have a written plan.
Start small but specific
Some of what you have read in this site may have sounded pretty grandiose. And, to some extent, the education of virtue is grandiose. But when it comes to practice, virtue education often amounts to working on the small things in your life. So don’t set out a master plan to completely fix all your character flaws and become perfectly virtuous in the next six months. Settle on something small and specific.
What then, makes a good plan? It may be helpful to use the SMART matrix. Is your virtue education plan specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound? Here are some examples:
😒 😒 Example of a really bad plan: ‘I will improve the virtue of compassion by helping those that are needy‘. This is relevant, but it is not specific, measurable, achievable or time-bound.
😒 Example of a bad plan: ‘I will improve the virtue of compassion by helping helping the sick people in my city‘. This is a little more specific, but still not measurable, achievable or time-bound.
😊 Example of a good plan: ‘I will improve the virtue of compassion by doing volunteer work with the children in the cancer ward of my local hospital’. This is specific and achievable, but it still can improve in terms of being measurable and time-bound.
😊 😊 Example of a really good plan: ‘I will improve the virtue of compassion by doing volunteer work in the cancer ward of my local hospital with at least two children every Saturday morning for the next five months’. This is SMART.
Here are some real life examples of habituation plans (names have been changed):
- Cherian. My chosen virtue is temperance with particular relation to the time I spend on social media. It has previously been the case that large portions of my time were spent on my phone or laptop, scrolling through social media, rather than doing something productive. In order to balance this out, I will give myself a daily limit of 15 mins on social media. I will do this by setting up a screen time alarm which notify me once my daily time has been reached.
- Linda. My chosen virtues are courage and generosity, as I recognise the need to reach out to new people and be generous with my time with them. I plan to talk to one new student in my university every week, to initiate a conversation with them, getting to know them and even offering my time to know or help them with anything if needed. This habituation will take me out of my comfort zone of only speaking or clinging to the same people l know and feel comfortable with.
- Golan. My chosen virtue is compassion in helping others. For five months I will offer to cook at least once a week for those I live with and, whenever there is washing up to do, I will volunteer rather than waiting for someone else to do it. This is a realistic target for me. In order to improve my sympathy towards others I will also pray for at least one person in need every night. This is also a feasible achievement as all I need to do is to remember to pray for others.
- Dmitry. My chosen virtue is generosity as was struck during the virtue test that this is a lack of love. I have seen that my lack of generosity is both towards others and towards myself, as I rarely allow myself any ‘extra’ good things. My plan is hence twofold. In order to be more generous to others, I will ensure that I regularly attend the church and serve where I have said I would, even when it is not convenient for me. This will instil in me the importance of sharing generously with my time. Secondly, in oder to be more generous toward myself, when I go to the grocery shop, I will make sure that I buy at least one or two items which are more of a luxury or some kind of treat. Both these activities will take place over a period of 6 months and I will keep a note of my progress in my journal.
- Promise. My chosen virtue is hope as I recognise the potential vice of cynicism in me. To do this, each time I make a negative comment about or over a situation, I want to force myself to make a positive comment as well. I often find myself making a negative comment about a person, but I want to make a positive comment too. At the end of each day, I will make a note in my phone calendar of one time that I have consciously made a positive comment following a negative one.
As you can see, these plans are very different from each other, but they are all simple and specific.
Write your habituation plan
The examples show you that a habituation plan does not need to be long or complex. Here is a suggested list of questions that could serve as your outline.
- What is your chosen virtue? Is there also a specific vice that you have identified?
- What kind of activities are characteristic of this virtue? Make a general list.
- Which specific activity(ies) do you choose to repeat over the coming months?
- How is your plan specific?
- How is your plan measurable?
- How is your plan achievable?
- How is your plan relevant?
- How is your plan time bound?
Ok. Now it is time for you to write your plan. Take your time. Think about it carefully. Maybe draft something, sleep over it and revise it on the following day. Once you have a plan that feels right for you, finalise it (print it, save it, share it…) and prepare to start doing it.
The next section has some final tips as you set out to educate virtue in your character.