What is worth doing at all, is worth the undivided attention; but John
can never be satisfied to do but one thing at a time. By attempting
to read or play while dressing, he consumes double the time that is
necessary. He reads at the table, and, in consequence, keeps the table
waiting for him to finish his meal. He turns his work into play, and
thus his work is slighted, and frequently left half done. When he goes
to his lesson, his attention is arrested by something else before he
has fairly commenced, and he stops to look or listen. Or perhaps he
insensibly falls into a reverie, and is engaged in building “castles
in the air,” till something happens to call back his spirit from the
fairy land. The consequence is, the lesson is acquired but imperfectly,
while twice the needful time has been spent upon it. At the same time,
nothing else is accomplished. This is what I call _busy idleness_.

The true way to accomplish the most, and to do it in the best manner,
is to confine the attention strictly to the thing in hand, and to
bend all the energies of the mind to that one object, aiming to do it
in the best possible manner, in the least possible time. By adopting
this principle, and acting upon it, you will be surprised to find how
much more expeditiously you will accomplish what you undertake, and
how much better it will be done. It is indispensable to success in any

Closely connected with this subject, is the _systematic division of
time_. Where there is no system, one duty will jostle another, and much
time will be wasted in considering what to do next; all of which would
be avoided, by having a regular routine of duties, one coming after the
other in regular order, and so having a set time for each. This cannot
be carried out perfectly, because there will every day be something to
do that was not anticipated. But it may be so far pursued as to avoid
confusion and waste of time.

Beginning things and leaving them unfinished, exerts a bad influence
in the formation of character. If it becomes a habit, it will make
you so fickle that no one will put confidence in you. There is James
Scott. If you go into his room, you will find his table strewed, and
his drawer filled, with compositions begun and not completed; scraps of
verses, but no poem finished; letters commenced, but not completed. Or,
if you go to his play-house, you will find a ball half wound; a kite
half made; a boat begun; one runner of a sled; one wheel of a wagon;
and other things to match. He wants energy and perseverance to finish
what he begins; and thus he wastes his time in frivolous pursuits. He
is very ready to _begin_; but before he has completed what is begun,
he thinks of something else that he wishes to do; or he grows weary of
what he is upon. He lives to no purpose, for he _completes_ nothing;
and he might as well _do nothing_, as to _complete nothing_.

If you indulge this practice, it will grow upon you, till you will
become weak, irresolute, fickle, and good for nothing. To avoid this,
begin nothing that is not worth finishing, or that you have not
good reason to think you will be able to finish. But when you have
begun, resolutely persevere till you have finished. There is a strong
temptation, with the young, to abandon an undertaking, because of
the difficulties in the way; but, if you persevere, and conquer the
difficulties you meet with, you will gain confidence in yourself, and
the next time, perseverance in your undertakings will be more easy. You
may, however, make a mistake, and begin what you cannot or ought not to
perform; in which case, perseverance would only increase the evil.

CHARACTER is formed under a great variety of influences. Sometimes a
very trifling circumstance gives direction to the whole course of one’s
life. And every incident that occurs, from day to day, is exerting a
silent, gradual influence, in the formation of your character. Among
these influences, none are more direct and powerful than that exerted
upon us by the companions with whom we associate; for we insensibly
fall into their habits. This is especially true in childhood and youth,
when the character is plastic, like soft wax,–easily impressed.

But we cannot avoid associating, to some extent, with those whose
influence is injurious. It is necessary, then, for us to distinguish
society into _general_ and _particular_. General society is that with
which we are _compelled to associate_. Particular society is that which
we _choose for ourselves_. In school, and in all public places, you are
under the necessity of associating somewhat with all. But those whom
you meet, in such circumstances, you are not compelled to make intimate
friends. You may be courteous and polite to all, wherever and whenever
you meet them, and yet maintain such a prudent reserve, and cautious
deportment, as not to be much exposed to contamination, if they should
not prove suitable companions.

But every one needs _intimate friends_; and it is necessary that these
should be well chosen. A bad friend may prove your ruin. You should
therefore be slow and cautious in the formation of intimacies and
friendships. Do not be suddenly taken with any one, and so enter into
a hasty friendship; for you may be mistaken, and soon repent of it.
There is much force in the old adage, “All is not gold that shines.”
A pleasing exterior often conceals a corrupt heart. Before you enter
into close intimacies or friendships, study the characters of the
persons whom you propose to choose for companions. Watch their behavior
and conversation; and if you discover any bad habits indulged, or any
thing that indicates a want of principle, let them not become your
companions. If you discover that they disregard any of the commandments
of God, set them down as unsafe associates. They will not only be
sure to lead you astray, but you can place no dependence upon their
fidelity. If they will break one of God’s commands, they will another;
and you can put no confidence in them. But even where you discover no
such thing, ask the opinion of your parents respecting them before you
choose them as your friends. Yet, while you are in suspense about the
matter, treat them courteously and kindly. But when you have determined
to seek their friendship, do not impose your friendship on them against
their will. Remember that they have the same right as yourself to
the choice of their friends; and they may see some objection to the
formation of a friendship with yourself. Be delicate, therefore, in
your advances, and give them an opportunity to _come half way_. A
friendship cautiously and slowly formed will be much more likely to
last than one that is formed in haste.

But let the number of your intimate and confidential friends be small.
It is better to have a few select, choice, and warm friends, than to
have a great number, less carefully chosen, whose attachment is less
warm and ardent. But you must not refuse to associate at all with the
mass of the society where you belong; especially, if you live in the
country. You must meet them kindly and courteously, on all occasions
where the society in general in which you move is called together. You
must not affect exclusiveness, nor confine yourself to the company of
your particular friends, at such times. But be careful that you do not
expose yourself to evil influences.

You ought not, at present, to form any intimate friendships with the
other sex. Such friendships, at your age, are dangerous; and if not
productive of any serious present evils, they will probably be subjects
of regret when you come to years of maturity; for attachments may be
formed that your judgment will then disapprove.