Habits Worth Keeping

When you think about your habits, what comes to mind? Brushing your teeth morning and night? Using your turn signals when changing lanes? Late-night munching?  Habits can be positive or negative, taking us closer to or further away from our destiny. Conventional wisdom says that it takes 21 days to form a habit, so many of us find encouragement when we are attempting to develop new habits, such as a fitness routine or an alternative way of engaging social media.  So yes, it is true that we have the capacity to be forming new habits all the time.  If the truth be known, however, we are deeply formed by habits that we’ve demonstrated over years and years, habits so deeply entrenched that they’ve virtually become invisible to us.  Our lives are shaped by the interchange of the week and the weekend: pay periods that may come on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis; holidays and their related traditions that form us year after year.  That rhythm can be comforting to us, but can also lull us into a sense of complacency.  For example, we’re sometimes in the habit of going to weekly worship, but may just be going through the motions if we’re not fully present in the experience.

Think about your daily routines:  What do you do when you first wake up in the mornings? What do you drink?  What do you eat for breakfast? For lunch? What happens when you get off work? How do you occupy yourself during the evenings?  What time do you go to bed? If you were to log all of your activities, you might be surprised by the rhythms of your daily and weekly schedules (and non-schedules).  Some of our best and worst habits are patterns that were introduced to us long ago.  Whether it’s flossing nightly or hanging out every weekend with a crowd that really doesn’t reflect our values, we do many things automatically, mechanically, without consideration of how our lives might be better if we more closely inspected our habits.  Herein lies the power of tracking of our behaviors.  Not only can you keep a log of your exercise, your food intake, and your sleep patterns for the week, but you can also track your level of productivity at a library versus a coffeehouse, or examine how your devotional life tracks to your well-being, or the level of your attention given to your loved ones with and without your favorite electronic device close by.  The timeless wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi, Indian civil rights activist, reminds us:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

Think intentionally, then, about how you’d like your routines to look.  Don’t be distracted by the wealth of obstacles that come to mind; they may seem formidable but can be overcome when you are determined to reach your goals.  The barriers to success seem to preoccupy us so much that we never get to the important task of brainstorming freely, without censoring ourselves.  But if you can get your mind to imagine or visualize the possibilities, the mind, greatly aided by the Holy Spirit, has a way of transcending those barriers.  (This is the concept behind the saying “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”)

Just ask yourself this question: “If I woke up tomorrow and a miracle had occurred, what would my perfect day look like?”  Would you be displaying habits that make you a better employee, like getting to work earlier, or communicating more effectively with teammates or customers?  Might you show patterns that make you a better student, like studying on a consistent basis, not just the night before a test or paper?  Would you be contributing more to humankind, such as making more time for community service, or following up with friends or family who could use your support?  Or perhaps you would be preserving some precious time for yourself and for your favorite things and activities (like taking that much-needed nap)?  While perfection won’t be realized on this side of glory, there are witnesses around us who manage to establish habits that reflect integrity with their deepest values.  And those values aren’t always connected to “doing,” (i.e., identifying more business leads, running more marathons, or volunteering for more agencies).  Sometimes the highest form of success comes in simply “being,” without requisite productivity having to be engaged or documented.  Dream carefully about the habits you’re envisioning; they will become your destiny.

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