“Character is largely a matter of the establishment of Habits. ‘And what is the best way to establish habits?’ Becomes our next question. The answer of the Yogi is: ‘Establish a mental image, and then build your Habit around it.’ And in that sentence he has condensed a whole system.
“Everything we see having a form is built around a mental image—either the mental image of some man, some animal, or of the Absolute. This is the rule of the universe, and in the matter of character building we but follow a well established rule. When we wish to build a house, we first think of ‘house’ in a general way. … Then we go into details. Then we consult an architect, and he makes us a plan, which is his mental image, suggested by our mental image. … Make your picture clear and distinct, and fasten it in your mind. Then began to build around it.” ~William Walker Atkinson
Character and Habits
I’m not sure we can say that character building is simply a matter of establishing habits. Perhaps we can say that character building is a matter of intentionally forming good habits, but not habits in general.
Some people form good habits, but without intending to do so. It may have been pushed on them by their parents, teachers, or community. While this does create a person of good character, it is probably not strong character. By that, I mean that a person who has good habits that were forced upon him, rather than by his choice, is often easily convinced to change those habits.
Other people form habits, both intentional and unintentional, that are not good at all. An infant, not understanding the concept of life, will often catch and kill insects. Adults generally allow this. Later, when the child starts killing small animals, the parents may wish to stop it, but it may be too late. The habit has been established. Other may not develop such bad habits until they are somewhat older. In a sense, this is still development of character. Rotten character, which is not what is intended. Like a spoiled brat dictator and a spoiled brat president calling each other names like small children. In public! And thinking such behavior is acceptable! Character, yes, but rotten character. More characters than character.
So I think when Atkinson talks about developing character by developing habits, we can reword that by saying “developing character by the intentional development of good habits.” And there is also a difference between good character on the physical level, and having good spiritual character.
Mental Form Before Physical Form
It is true that everything that is created must exist as a mental form before it can become a physical form. It is even said by some that all of creation is nothing more than the thoughts in the mind of God.
Most of us have probably heard of some form of this mental imaging concept. Whether it be positive thinking, visualization, or some other system. Most of us have tried one or more such systems with little or no results. This is generally caused by one or both of two problems.
First, many of us have ideas of what we want, whether it be a new house, a car, a new job, whatever. But the image we form of it in our mind is vague and general. Most experts agree that the images formed must be very detailed to be effective. If your goal is a new job, you need to know what kind of job, where, how much will you get paid, where will you go to get the necessary education for that job, etc. Just saying you want a better paying job is not planning, just daydreaming.
Second, even if we develop a detailed image and plan, we don’t hold the thought in our minds long enough or often enough. Either we try to work on too many goals at the same time, or we simply let the mind wander away from the goal. Of course, we cannot dwell on the goal all day, everyday. We can, however spend some time everyday working on it. Preferably, several times a day. And eventually, thinking about that positive goal will become a habit. The good kind of habit. And developing such habits will give us good character.
There is a difference between good character on the physical level, and good character on the spiritual. Those who develop good spiritual character, however, always have good character on the physical level as well.
We develop good spiritual character by making a habit out of things that develop our spiritual self. Spiritual students make a habit of doing our spiritual growth techniques. We visualize ourselves as being highly developed spiritual beings. And we see ourselves helping others do the same as much as possible. The best kind of spiritual character.