Habits to Make

How long is your wishlist of habits? Not the habits you want to break, the ones you want to make. How many of them are suspiciously like the New Year’s resolutions you’ve been making for years? And will make again next year?

I’m very excited, because I’ve just passed the six-month anniversary of one habit on my wishlist — reading the bible every day. This effort is being guided by the Daily Office lectionary out of my Prayer Book — I say “guided”, because I’ll read the chapters and verses it skips. For example, the one last night where wise King Solomon sent his henchman out to kill the guys who were threats to his own newly established kingship — remember that one? Amazing what you find in the gaps in the Daily Office. But I digress.

The point is, I’ve been keeping a habit! With rarely a miss! How on earth did I make that happen, with everything going on in my life? Part of success was starting it as a Lenten exercise — I tend to do well with those. Part of it was feeling rather unhappy about wearing braces, so I wanted to have a different 2-year project that I would feel happy about accomplishing. And that’s the real key. It wasn’t just being conscientious about doing it for the 40 days of Lent, it was really wanting to do it past the end of Lent.

The other thing about this particular habit, though, has been the unexpected benefits. I’ve enjoyed finding out parts of the stories that they leave out of the Vacation Bible School versions. I’ve stayed up until the wee hours reading the cliff-hanger final chapters of Acts. And once in a while, I read something that is real food for thought, and my mental legs get a happy workout.

Which brings me to another habit on my list: exercise. That one is way far from being a regular daily thing like the bible-reading habit. I do really well on vacations — I go swimming and take walks and such. But at home, I’m a real laggard. Commuting and working full-time are great excuses, don’t you think?

I do make an effort. I’m a member of a sports club. Some months my daughter and I go swimming there more often than I write the membership check. But not many. We have Wii Fit, and for a while I was doing those exercises daily. But something happened. I got off track, and the enthusiasm to start up again just wasn’t there. Walks around the neighborhood happen, but they’re sporadic. Good for fresh air, but not much for the heart rate.

My newest toy is a dance game with a pad you step on while you dance to the music, following the arrows on the TV. I bought the one with two pads, so I could do it with my daughter. Suddenly, I’m optimistic. I find that I pull out the game and plug it into the TV because I enjoy dancing. Because I like the music. Because it feels good. Because my daughter enjoys doing it too. And I get a kick out of the fact that I’m ending up drenched with sweat doing something that just FUN!

I don’t know whether this new toy will help me to make exercise a habit. But I’m hopeful. Between the meditative yoga exercises on the Wii, the zen lap swims on sunny days at the club, and the high energy rhythmic challenge of the Dance Praise game, I may have a chance of exercising nearly every day, like the experts say I should.

The folks on e-how have lots of step-by-step instructions for forming a habit that are pretty helpful, but these two tips are mine:

  1. Start it during a time of year that extends at least 30 days, and commit to doing it daily for that period. I’ve used Lent a couple of times so I know that works for me. I know that six weeks or a month before a vacation is not an ideal time, because my routine will be interrupted, and it can be hard to restart if the habit can’t be kept while I’m away.
  2. Make something about it fun. What you’re doing. Where you’re doing it. Whom you’re doing it with. The ends justifying the means doesn’t really work if the means are really boring.

Perhaps one of my favorite Disney characters, Mary Poppins, said it best:

In ev'ry job that must be done
There is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap!
The job's a game

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