As I write this, New York City is once again enjoying snow. Little flakes fall from the sky and melt as they touch the ground. It’s silly. Despite the time change we all have experienced, winter seems keen on staying. Even with the extra light, spring feels far away.
I’ve been going through a spell where I’m down again and it’s hard to reconcile with the good that I recently felt was around the corner. But none of that is the point of this blog post today. Just a little reminder: it can feel like winter outside AND you can still know that spring is around the corner.
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The promises we keep to ourselves
This post isn’t about resolutions, though those can qualify as promises. It isn’t about goals either. It’s about habits and why they are so hard to keep going, and I guess part of me wonders if we should be so hard on ourselves about them.
Every year, I have a few habits that I try to get myself back into. Sometimes it’s fixing my sleep. Or it’s my quiet time. Maybe it’s drinking water and moving my body. It can even be as simple as putting sunscreen on my face. In the hustle and bustle of life, it can be easy to forget the minute things that we know we should do.
Part of me wants to advocate for the attitude of try and try again. Especially when it comes to things we know are good for us. We know we should move our bodies and get enough water and go to bed on time. But we always forget. Or we never seem to make it last.
When it comes to our health, I do think that we should keep going. Health isn’t something we should take for granted. It’s important when we do have time and energy to care for our own bodies. Just because we miss one workout doesn’t mean we need to miss all of them. And if we’ve had a bad few months or even years, we can always start again. Starting again isn’t a sign of weakness. Perhaps we need to learn to celebrate our ability to keep getting up, even in the face of discouragement.
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The productivity obsession
Another part of me kind of wonders why we’re all so hung up on habits. Yes, I agree with Annie Dillard. How we spend our days is indeed how we spend our lives. But who says we have to spend our days doing the same things over again? (This, of course, excludes brushing your teeth, taking a shower, eating, etc. Those are just good things to do regularly.) I wonder if we would be less bored with our lives if we tried to do something new every day. But maybe that would be too chaotic. And perhaps unrealistic.
Our obsession with habits is rooted in the idea that it’s what we do and achieve that brings us value. If our habits were less goal oriented and more enjoyment-oriented, I wonder if we would find simpler joys tend better to our souls.
Habits like reading nightly or watching a show you enjoy, making a warm cup of tea, lighting a candle as you sit down for dinner, playing classical music as you clean, taking a nap, or playing a card game with your family before bed.
And I wonder if the bar is too high. That we forget that we’re human, and that as humans, we don’t always like doing the same thing every day. My quiet time doesn’t look the same every day. It has some of the same elements but in varying degrees: a little bit of silence, time to pray, time to read the Bible, and more silence. Maybe some days I listen to worship music. Other days I read a Christian book.
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The promises we don’t keep to ourselves
The way we view habits can be too restrictive. “I must get up at 7:30 or my day is ruined.” I am saddened to say that that was me for most of college. I would get up super early to do my quiet time, and I found myself trying to squeeze these strict habits. As the pandemic came, I let go of some of that strictness, and I actually found new ways to do my quiet time. I would use an hour of margin to sit quietly and read. Or I would eat breakfast and journal (I did that a ton in my fourth year).
We need to let go of metrics and numbers that define these habits. The reason we’re doing these habits is not to hit a certain number marker but because we know that it’s good for us. It’s good for me to go on a walk, so I make time to do that. It doesn’t mean I walk everyday (I don’t) but it means that I prioritize walking in my schedule.
I don’t want New Year’s resolutions or any goals I have to be consumed by numbers. Instead, I want to track my progress and give myself more grace for times that I don’t hit my goals. Sometimes I get sick and need to rest. Other times, I get wrapped up in a big project and forget to honor my habits. Still, on other days, there are just bigger things on my mind. These promises aren’t just things we need to do to reach the “perfection” of being human. For me, they are a baseline to return to.
When I think of habits that will keep me grounded, I think of journaling, taking long walks in silence, my morning cup of tea, my nighttime read, saying Compline, and doing a regular tidy.
I’m not trying to reach the pinnacle of humanity. I am just trying to love myself well and do things that bring myself joy. Let’s not stifle that with ideas of success and failure, and instead leave room for growth.
Hope this helped you take the pressure off of having done your resolutions perfectly. I realized that I need to re-establish my bedtime routine again, and I’ve kind of been slacking on my walks this March. What are some habits or promises you need to start again?
2 thoughts on “the promises we keep (or not)”
I think being strict with habits has to do with control issues.
But yeah: we are human, and humans change. That’s one of the definitions of a living organism. Flexibility! And always honoring God.
That’s a really good point! I always thought that part of the strictness came with how media portrays those habits, but the need for control is even more deeply rooted than that.