If you’re anything like me, you find bad habits difficult to break and positive ones tricky to establish. I think it would be a great thing to exercise more, and to stop staying up late to read “just one more chapter” in the book I have by my bed, and maybe even to stop by my parish church and spend an hour or two with the Blessed Sacrament from time to time.
You can see the problem here: I said: “I think it would be a great thing.” I don’t plan it; I think about it. And as long as all I do is think, that’s as far as my desire for change is going to go.
There is a plethora of business and self-help books out there that talk about how to establish habits in order to be successful in your career and in your family life, and as far as I can see, they all have one thing in common: every person who has been able to establish healthy habits, or rid themselves of unhealthy ones, has done it with a plan. They don’t just think about how to do it: they plan how to do it. As one expression would have it, “plan the work, then work the plan.”
Decades after finishing my last academic degree, I still think in terms of September being the beginning of the year. The air turns crisper, there’s a sense of something new and different being just around the corner. If you have children or are in school yourself, you know what I mean. What will the new semester bring?
This is an excellent time to plan some changes and start implementing them. Don’t wait for the New Year to make (and maybe break) resolutions: that’s time to be celebrating the Christmas season. Do it now, when summer is fading and kids are going off to school and you can take a moment to reflect on what changes you’d like to make in your life. What habits would bring you closer to God?
As Catholics, we have an advantage over all those business self-help books: our plans come with prayer. We’re not in it alone. God wants to help us fulfill our full potential. And along with prayer, we have a second powerful tool: perseverance. The truth is that habits can be made reasonably easily, as long as you persevere in planning and creating them. They’re not made quickly—two to three months is a safe estimate of the time it takes to establish a new habit—but as long as you’re persevering, your brain is registering the new practice until gradually it isn’t a new practice after all.
Take a look at Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God
Most people think about change either as a sweeping landscape or a long list: I want to change this, and that, and then fourteen more things. No wonder we never get it all done: perfection is a pretty tall order! When you try to do too much at once, it’s easy to slip and then get discouraged.
Instead, establish simple new habits that will move you in the right direction. It’s not a bad idea, suggests Roger Landry in his book Plan of Life, to start at the very beginning: getting out of bed! Being able to get out of bed right when the alarm goes off is a critical step to a fully satisfying spiritual life. The ability to follow a routine, even one as basic as getting up at the same time every day, lays a strong foundation of integrating spiritual habits into our daily life. If we don’t have the wherewithal to do our essential duties, we won’t have the strength to live out a life of prayer and spiritual growth.
For those of us who struggle with getting up, there are a few tricks to make it easier:
- Get to sleep at a reasonable hour.
- Set a realistic wake-up time.
- Pray for a few moments when you hear your alarm, to clear your brain and set up your day with mindfulness.
- Troubleshoot your vulnerabilities.
- Put the alarm across the room.
- Reward yourself with a delicious breakfast, indulgent check of social media, or a nice cup of coffee when you do get up with your alarm.
That doesn’t sound quite so difficult, does it? St. Paul reminds us that with God, all things are possible. You can do this: you can develop holy habits to replace others that are unhealthy. Start small, stay consistent, and may September be your month to develop a plan of life you can truly live with!
Want help? Father Landry’s book is filled with practical information on developing holy habits that bring us closer to God. Why not order a copy today?
by Jeannette de Beauvoir