I had a terrible habit when I was a child.
I constantly chewed my nails. My mom relentlessly corrected me and did all she could to keep me from doing this in public. But she wasn’t successful for a long time. She tried painting my nails with clear nail polish – which didn’t work. Finally, she decided to paint hot sauce on my nails, in a last ditch effort to stop me from chewing them. It worked!!
As a parent now, I’m working with my son on not chewing his nails. We haven’t resorted to hot sauce – yet!
The truth is whether we’re adults or children, our habits have a huge impact on our lives. Simple habits like chewing our nails and big habits like exercise and saving money can lead to huge consequences later.
Change comes in our lives from a lot of sources. I recently wrote about the way our friendships encourage life change. The people around us make a big difference in who we become and where we go. I’ve seen this play out in my life and the lives of others consistently.
However, our habits change us too. John Dryden once said, “First we make our habits and then our habits make us.” Our habits shape who we become. According to the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, “we are what we repeatedly do.” We know habits take time (some say 21 days, others say longer). But long-term success comes from sustaining the right habits.
5 Qualities of Life-Changing Habits
How do we take actions and turn them into habits? Well, I think our habits have to include five qualities.
Our habits have to become part of our routine, to the point where they become automatic or second-nature. The habits we engage daily (or at least during the work-week) are the ones which have the most impact on our lives. The consistency of our habits often produces more change than the quality of the action.
2. Paired with accountability
I don’t know about you, but I don’t do much without a deadline or accountability to some person I know I’m letting down if I don’t take action. For me, my strongest habits are enforced by my accountability to others to carry through with my actions. Self-initiated accountability helps us do what we know we should but struggle with on our own.
3. Provoked by reminders
While we may have done something for a long time, a little reminder here or there can’t hurt. This is why I use the Reminders app on my phone. I have created 5-6 reminders which all begin with “Have you…?” It’s not guilt-ridden, just a question to remind me. We all need reminders in a world which constantly distracts us!
Few habits are forever. But our habits must be carried out with patience and persistence. The most significant habits are not necessarily easy but they must be sustainable for some period of time. Running for two or three days won’t produce marathon-level endurance. Saving money for a month or two won’t lead to a nest egg for retirement and getting a good night of sleep one night a week won’t lead to a sense of rest. Occasional, intermittent acts rarely changes us or others. If only for a season, our habits must be sustainable for long enough to see change happen.
When building or sustaining a habit, it is important to minimize resistance and make the habit as simple and attainable as possible. In the past, I’ve made my habits so complicated that I made success less likely. When we make those things more complicated than necessary, we minimize our chances of success.
Habits and Momentum
A few weeks ago, I hit a groove in creating content (sermons, blogs, etc,) and gaining a deeper sense of connectedness to God. As I tried to deconstruct what clicked for me, I realized it wasn’t just one thing, but a bunch of daily and weekly habits snowballing momentum.
Looking back, I see a perfect storm of sorts when it came to my habits. I began sending daily text messages to a new friend, which included a prayer and a Scripture verse. I hit a groove in my writing rhythm. I kept my sermon prep schedule. I spent 30 minutes most night with my wife after our kids went to bed. I began each morning by calling a buddy and praying together. I woke up each morning to stretch and pray in the dark before my kids woke up.
Isolated by itself, any of these one habits might have been a milestone. But I realized my habits were compounding onto one another, feeding into each other, creating a lot of momentum in my life. Habits are like that – their influence goes beyond the simple action they represent.
We have unprecedented opportunity in our lives to impact others and experience transformation ourselves. The choices we make and habits we create go a long way in seizing those opportunities.
John O’Leary on The Opportunity of Today
I was moved by a email I received from John O’Leary yesterday. John is an incredible motivational speaker, whose story is compelling and convicting. He shared some reflections about the Resurrection of Jesus and the reality of what comes after big moments of celebration in our culture.
“And then what?” That’s the part of the story that always fascinates me. It’s easy to show up and be fully engaged for the big events, but what about the following day? It’s easy to look great and say all the right things for the first date, or the engagement party, or the marriage, but what about day two? Or year two? Or year 22? It’s easy to have a good first interview, or first day on the job, or successful launch of the product, but then what? Yet, how do you stay on fire for your work, relationships, and life through the ups and downs, the beautiful and tragic, the exciting and mundane? After the good news (of the Resurrection) entered into the lives of Jesus’ followers, they had to wake up on Monday morning, surrounded by trouble, pursued by authorities, uncertain in strategy, and decide what to do with their days. What’s the next step? Where do we go from here? What should we do with our days? And, to no lesser significance, it’s the same opportunity that exists before all of us today.“
The habits we build with the opportunity in front of us today will shape the landscape of our future. If we want to change who we are or become who we’re created to be, we ought to pay attention to our habits, even the littlest ones. Our repeated actions can slowly and progressively change our direction and shape our hearts.
What are your worst habits? How have your habits make an exponential difference in your life? I’d love to hear in the comments below.