Like clockwork, millions of people make resolutions at the start of a new year, vowing to overhaul themselves. And when the groundhog pops his furry head up a month later, many folks abandon resolutions amid defeat—simply because they couldn’t accomplish an overhaul.
Many of us desire to change our lives, and we can by focusing on one habit at a time, asking the Holy Spirit to empower us. It’s possible to master that habit, then move to the next. The problem comes when we attempt an entire life overhaul on day one of the new year. It’s no wonder we get discouraged and give up.
In 2015, I wanted to incorporate one habit: exercise. A year later, it’s become a daily ritual. Because exercise has become part of my morning routine, I can imagine dressing myself in workout clothes in my sleep.
There’s no need to lambaste yourself if you fail at a habit on one day. Just lace up your running shoes the next day and go.
As I’ve worked on this habit and learned to master it, I’ve come across seven truths that may help you start your own habit adventure.
1) Scripture suggests habits. Paul discusses the importance of diligence when he talks about how athletes prepare for competition. (See 1 Cor. 9:24-27.) And the author of Hebrews reminds us, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (1 Cor. 12:11).
2) A little introspection helps you choose which habit to take on. Simply fill in the blank: “I am happiest when ______________.” When I realized I was happiest while outdoors, and that I loved stories, exercise became amazing. Why? Because I walk outside everyday while listening to podcasts. Because this is a joyful habit, I actually look forward to it every day. And as I look back over the past year, I can honestly say this has been one of the most consistent habits I’ve maintained.
3) Grace enhances habits, but a critical spirit deflates them. A habit can be resumed because it’s not a goal with an end in mind. It’s neutral in that sense, so there’s no need to lambaste yourself if you fail at a habit on one day. Just lace up your running shoes the next day and go.
4) Morning routines influence the success of habits. Our mornings set the tone for our days, so creating great habits—where we discipline ourselves— early in the day makes for better days. Writer Don Marquis reminds us, “Successful people aren’t born that way. They become successful by establishing the habit of doing things unsuccessful people don’t like to do.”
5) Minimalism and simplicity provide an ideal environment for good habits. One example: If you want to have better eating habits, simplifying your menu (and eliminating processed foods) will help you. If you are tired of figuring out what clothes to wear every day, consider downsizing your wardrobe or creating a “uniform” so you can easily eliminate one decision. I’ve found the more I let go of (simplifying my home, my space, my closet), the more head-space I have to make the truly important decisions.
6) When creating spiritual habits, consider spiritual pathways. God has uniquely wired each of us to connect to Him creatively and in different ways. Which one resonates with you the most: worship, being outdoors, serving others, activism, study, quiet, adventure, relationships, artistic expression? Maybe you’ve forgotten how serving those less fortunate resonates in your soul and brings you closer to Jesus (as you’re doing His work). Perhaps “quiet time” has stifled you because it doesn’t involve sitting outside, enjoying God’s creation, or creating art based on scenes from the New Testament. One of the most spiritually-connecting exercises I did this year was to draw my way through the 40 days leading up to Easter. That simple practice deeply changed my heart, and it brought me nearer to the heart of God.
7) Realism trumps idealism in habit formation. We must be realistic. Choose one habit, then take months to master it. If you tackle too many at one time, you will face failure. Instead, be realistic about your abilities, and give yourself time.
So instead of overwhelming yourself at the beginning of the new year, remember these words from Jesus: “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10). Start small, master one habit, feel the joy of that discipline, then start afresh on a new one. Living this way in 2015, I’m better connected to Jesus, and I have a clearer head and a healthier body. All that has motivated me afresh in 2016 to tackle another great habit: spending more time listening to the voice of God.