I’ve spent the greater part of the past year delving into literature that, quite honestly, is a bit over my head. From poring over a Russian novel to reading bits of Dante, I switched gears entirely and picked up a book on habits, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Glenn read it first and I followed suit as I do in many of his reading endeavors.
Duhigg distills scores of research about how habits are formed, how habits are changed, and which habits matter most. The part I found most fascinating was a concept called ‘Keystone Habits’, the kind of habits that when changed affected many areas of life. Keystone habits aren’t the same for everyone but once you figure out what they are for you, a chain reaction could occur.
“Typically people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use credit cards less frequently and they say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why. But for many people exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”
I’m definitely not a naturally disciplined person, but I have to admit when certain areas of my life like exercise are consistent, I make better choices about what I eat, I feel more at peace, and I am probably just a nicer person to be around. Ask my husband!
We can’t deny that we are creatures of habit and easily find ourselves doing the same things over and over. I have found that it’s easy for negative or thoughtless habits to occur in my life if I’m not intentional about how to fill a particular space. In Colorado, it takes a proactive gardener whose willingness to tend plants regularly will possibly reap the reward of their tenacious tending. Without the attention to the plants, it doesn’t take long for weeds, deer, hail or the like to destroy them. I know, I had a vision of being a green thumb more than once and it is far from being fulfilled. (I think I’ve given up on this one!)
I would like to believe that some habits would form without considerable effort upon my part. But I haven’t found that to be true. For most of my life I’ve struggled to get up early unless a schedule demanded that I rise to the situation. In high school it was early morning show choir practice, and in recent years, a baby’s cry. I had hopes that these calls to get me out of bed would become habits. However, as soon as the season was over, I easily fell back into sleeping later than I hoped! Often, I would wake only when necessary, which put me starting the day reactively.
Although I do work well at night (it’s past 10 o’clock as I write), there is something about rising in the still quiet of the morning before the entire house is awake and full of life. Even if I’m barely awake, the habit of rising early sets me in a posture of seeking the Lord, listening to Him rather than responding usually to someone needing something from me. I wish I could say getting up before my family everyday has become a daily habit as a result of reading this inspiring book but it has not….at least yet. I working on it. I’ve been setting my alarm to rise early every day and when I do, I see the fruit of the discipline. The opportunity to meditate on Him and sit in silence to listen to His still small voice is at least a possibility. Even in those moments when I’m tired and feel like its pointless to be up that early, I’m believing that choosing to be disciplined about the habit is building something in my spirit.
I wonder if developing habits— actions that no longer require conscious thought or choice— actually gives us space to see God’s goodness, truth, and beauty. The more I have life-giving habits in place, the more space I have to see to what He is doing. If some practical habits are in place like morning routines, I actually have to think less, makes fewer decisions about things that seem less significant. If my children and I are following our routine— which I hope will become habit— then there is room to stop and step outside to see his creation rather than me spending that energy to remind them once again of what they should be doing. If I don’t have the habit of giving attention to the things God has placed right in front of me, how can I learn and grow?
One other Keystone Habit Duhigg mentions is making your bed. Even if the rest of our upstairs is in disarray something about made beds brings peace. Sometimes its the little things.