Breaking Bad Habits and Nurturing Fragile Ones

For the past few months, I’ve been slightly obsessed with maximizing my routines and habits. It started in the spring when I realized that I wasn’t getting to the things that I wanted to accomplish. It seemed that there wasn’t any time left after all my other daily to-do items. To get to the things that were important to me, I knew that I was going to have to make some changes to myself and to my routines. It became my goal to be very wise with how I spent my time. I knew I wasted time. I knew some of my routines were not productive. My week felt like a puzzle and I needed to figure out how all the pieces fit together.

The changes I was trying to make were nothing revolutionary. It was the same old balancing act of doing the things that I want to do vs. doing the things I need to do. The ongoing struggle of finding the time to work out, being on time/staying on schedule, keeping my devotion time in the morning, and finding the time to write. Without taking too much time from my family and my responsibilities at home.

I worked hard in September to implement some changes to my life and routines, hoping the “clean slate” and “fresh start” of the new school year would help me in my efforts to create better habits. I was making steady progress.

Then vacation happened.

Since we’ve been home, it’s like a bomb went off in the middle of all my good intentions and I’m having a lot of trouble piecing my routine back into place. It can be so discouraging. I beat myself up about it. Why are these simple things so incredibly hard to maintain?

Then I remember how fragile new habits and routines can be.

I love thinking of my new habits as fragile. I think I first heard that term from Gretchen Rubin in her book, Better Than Before. (Sorry I can’t stop quoting her because that book is still blowing my mind!) Even old habits, such as making the time to work out, can be fragile. A fragile habit is anything that’s constantly being threatened. In my mind, I used to think of habits as something related to inner strength (for good habits) or something that has a strong hold on you (bad habits). In both cases, I had this feeling and image of strength. But to imagine my habits as fragile, well, that definitely puts things into perspective. My habit to work out is not a strong, burly man that insists on his-way-or-the-highway. No, my working out habit looks more like a puny, preteen boy in his embarrassing P.E. clothes – skinny legs and all. Thinking of my habit as being fragile forces me to think of terms of protecting my habit. I need to nurture my habit. It changes the game. And, I think most importantly, it allows me to give myself grace when the fragile habit gets beat up by the playground bully.

BUT, some of our habits are burly, stubborn men determined to have their way. I desperately want to stop yelling at my kids, but I still yell at my kids in moments of frustration. I want to carve out time to write, but still haven’t figured out a consistent way to do it. It feels like the habits I want to change are determined to stay put.

So much of our life comes down to our habits. It really hit me when I was reading a recent New York Times article titled “Anorexia May Be A Habit, Not Willpower, Study Finds.” The article discusses how difficult it is to treat and recover from anorexia and how habits might be at the root of the problem with recovery. It’s a fascinating and sad article about how people want to get better but they can’t. In some cases it’s a life or death decision. In the article, I especially appreciated the quote from the doctor: “Habits have to be replaced with another behavior.” Around the same time, I read an article in Real Simple titled “Women and Their Complicated Relationship with Alcohol,” which discussed how women are drinking too much, not because of addiction but because of – you guessed it – habit. Of course, I’m not comparing my minor struggles to something as serious as anorexia or alcoholism, but I am comparing how the struggle with deep-rooted habits is similar. We want to change, but we can’t.

It can definitely be discouraging at times, but I refuse to lose hope. I will keep feeding my fragile habits and will keep fending off my bully habits. And, most importantly, I will keep seeking God for wisdom and strength. It’s amazing the results that occur when I simply ask God to help me use my time wisely. The God that parted the Red Sea is also willing to help me part my schedule to make a way for things to fit.

“God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and the perseverance of our will to overcome them.”

– C.S. Lewis

Tomorrow is a new day and a fresh start.

"The light at the end of the tunnel"

“The light at the end of the tunnel”

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