Your Own, Personal Crystal Ball

I spied the above sign in my friend’s bathroom in December.

I gasped in recognition of a succinct way of putting the change that has happened in my life over the last ten years. Ten years of daily forming my habits so I conserve my willpower and my life gets manageable, instead of overwhelming. 

Why is our personal routine so critical?

The habits we can develop, small or large, will carry us through our days. As we make multiple decisions everyday, it zaps our will power. By two in the afternoon, we can cave to whatever does not require willpower–which means eating the dried out doughnut you weren’t interested in the morning, or snapping at your child when earlier you would have been in more control.

I posted here and here, about two books that changed my life dramatically. Atomic Habits, by James Clear, talks about the power of small, teeny, tiny habits everyday that help you make huge changes over time. One of my small habits has been to pay one bill a day. We have a rental business, our own bills and then my in-law’s bills that I have been doing for ten years. . I would get overwhelmed and put bags of bills in my closet to deal with later. I would try to spend an hour a week, but that would get put off because I didn’t like doing it. This tiny habit practiced daily has made such a difference in my future self not feeling overwhelmed anymore. No more bags of bills, just a tiny chipping away at the mountain every day. This was a huge change for me.

The other book, The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, taught me about “keystone habits”, and the cue-routine-reward cycle of habits. A habit needs a cue to start, then you do the routine. Your reward is recording it on an app, a chart, or just feeling good about it. These are foundational habits like making your bed, exercising, or scripture reading. They are foundational because by doing this habit it affects other areas of your life as well. Author Tom Rath said, in his book, Eat, Move, Sleep that exercise is a 12 hour mood boost. That is how important exercise is–it is not only good for us physically, but it can create a different, more positive day for us, than if we hadn’t exercised at all.

My daughter had a perfect atomic habit for exercise. She had to put her shoes on and stand outside her apartment door. Then if she took a few steps or ran four miles–great! She told me one day she forgot and at 11:00 pm she put on her shoes and stood outside her door and felt like she hadn’t broken her streak of exercise. When we have lofty goals , sometimes they are hard to sustain– we get discouraged when we fail at them, and then we quit. With atomic or tiny habits, success is much easier to sustain.

Here is my daily routine, except for Sundays.

The night before I am in bed and reading by 8:00. I charge my phone in another room so it won’t affect my sleep. I am teased constantly about going to bed early by my children and friends but the payoff is so great that I keep doing it. Finally getting enough sleep is a game-changer and swapping those late night hours for early morning hours is magical.

Wake up naturally without an alarm.

Make my bed.

Pray–my cue on that is I can’t look at my phone until I have prayed.

Write for two hours. While I am writing I have a small paper next to my computer where I write down what I need to do that day, errands, who to call, or text. I find one priority for each day, and if I only get that done, I feel triumphant. I recently switched up the order of my morning because I wasn’t getting my writing done. Switching the order has really helped.

Scripture study

Journal writing

Exercise-using “temptation bundling” where I listen or watch something. James Clear from Atomic Habits says this idea distracts us from whatever we are trying to do that is hard.

Duolingo–a language app that takes 3 minutes.

Every dollar budget check in–1 transaction recorded a day at the minimum, but usually 5 or 10 minutes working on my budget, or my business budget. I will post about this in the future.

I pay a bill.

The end.

I call this my “Peace Practice”.

I read this sentence in a book called Resilience: Hard Won Wisdom For Living a Better Life by Eric Grietens,

“Joy is a practice we build in a world where we feel pain.”

On reflection, I added, the word “peace” to this sentence and wrote it on an index card taped to my cup of pens on my desk, because I am seeking that in my life as well.  “Joy and Peace is a practice we build in a world where we feel pain.” I lived with that for a while, pondering it’s message and meaning for me, and I now call my morning ritual,  my “Peace Practice” because joy is already a part of peace. 

This 3 and a half hour-ish routine is sometimes shortened to a half hour or less, but I still run through each stage, doing in 5 minutes what I would normally give much more time. I don’t have to think, I am on auto-pilot and doing this sets me up for a purposeful day, everyday. Where once I felt overwhelmed, and didn’t know where to start, I feel centered. This routine sets me up spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically for most of my days. It is true I don’t have small children anymore, and I work from home. All of that makes this easier. If I had this knowledge thirty years ago when I had a young family, I would still develop a routine for habits and make it much simpler, and shorter, but do it for myself.

This doesn’t mean my life is perfect, and all is effortless, but having a routine helps me when I don’t feel like doing anything. It propels me through discouragement, sickness, writer’s block, holidays, or having people stay for extended periods of time. It fills the cracks in me that come from living in a world of pain, chaos, and a constant assault on goodness.

As you think about your New Year’s resolutions, give tiny habits and keystone habits a try. Make a routine, where each habit is a cue for the next one. You will be amazed as I have been at how much you get done when you rewire your brain this way. Your willpower will expand, because you aren’t deciding everyday if you are going to do something that takes effort. You just do it!

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