Flying V’s and Forming New Habits

Being a wise person has much to do with devoting ourselves to simple, good daily habits. Every Christian who has had a steady time of daily Bible study and prayer can attest how powerful the daily plod can prove to be – in cumulative, at least. We all have those days where we carry out said rhythm and it feels like nothing good has actually come of it. Thankfully, this is one more case where our feelings are out of touch with reality. Brief but consistent daily repetition almost always results in measurable long-term growth.

Yet so many of us also fall into habit fatigue. We’ve tried to start so many new habits so many times and have so often failed to follow through. So we despair of ever actually being able to implement that good rhythm like we know we should. I’m still there with some things as well, important things like exercise and fasting. Often the breakthrough to starting and continuing a new habit seems to hinge on the most incremental amounts of motivation. So any help in getting that obedience onto the bottom shelf, the easiest place to reach, can be a game-changer.

It’s in that vein that I commend a simple, unoriginal piece of advice: Attach a new habit to something that is already a daily rhythm.

What am I already doing every day? And is there a way in which I can hang a new habit easily onto that preexisting rhythm? I’ve found that it requires much less motivation to do this than it does to start a new habit at a new scheduled time every day. Setting a new alarm for some set time when I think I will be free and motivated just hasn’t proved to be as effective as latching a new habit onto the trailer hitch of that other habit that’s already rumbling down the road.

Ever since our first child was very young we’ve been able to be very consistent at daily family Bible reading, singing, and prayer together. Is this because we are more self-controlled or spiritual than others? Not at all. It’s because our kids naturally have a bedtime routine: pajamas, bathroom, teeth brushing, hugs and kisses. This happens almost every single night. That meant that attaching family worship to the front end of bedtime was much easier to accomplish. This has been going on for seven years now! It’s become very normal and second-nature to us, and yet we’ve hosted many over the years who had never seen a simple rhythm like this until they had observed it at our house.

Mealtimes are also great for new habits, because again, they actually happen every single day. That makes them a perfect place to attach new rhythms. Last year I was feeling like my dinner prayers were growing stale. So I made a list of short prayers from the Bible and important figures in church history and we began rotating through them at supper. I love church history and desire to find creative ways to expose my kids to it. So why not precede our Central Asian dinners of rice, beans, and kabob with a little Basil of Caesarea?

Steer the ship of my life, good Lord, to your quiet harbor, where I can be safe from the storms of sin and conflict. Show me the course I should take. Renew in me the gift of discernment, so that I can always see the right direction in which I should go. And give me the strength and the courage to choose the right course, even when the sea is rough and the waves are high, knowing that through enduring hardship and danger in your name we shall find comfort and peace.

What about lunchtime? Well, just for fun, we’ve been telling a new joke every day, using this article, The 50 Best Jokes for Little Kids. We’ve been consistent at this for about a month and our kids (8, 6, and 2) have been loving it. It also helps me also get out of my serious work mindset and into silly dad mode, which is not always my natural bent. Attaching this rhythm to lunch made it very accessible and my kids never fail to remind me about our lunch joke. What do you call a dancing cow? A milkshake! (ba-dum-psh!)

Daily habits and language learning/retention. These two absolutely must go together. God has wired our brains to learn and retain language through daily usage, and to lose that language if we don’t use it. I was overjoyed to stumble into a new habit a year and a half ago where I was able to use Bible apps on my phone to read two verses a day in four parallel languages. I may be the only person in my current country that speaks one of these languages, but I don’t want to lose it! Three of the other languages are those I’m trying to learn or make progress in. Two verses a day isn’t much. But when it happens almost every day over a couple years that means I’ve carefully worked through over seven hundred verses – and managed to keep the gears for that particular language fresh and oiled in my brain. Where did I stick this new habit? On the tail end of my personal study and prayer time in the morning. It adds ten minutes to the routine, but they are ten minutes well invested.

Finally, lest anyone start to feel impressed by any of this, I must admit that I struggled for years to remember to brush my teeth in the morning. At night, yes, but morning? Terrible. The breakthrough came with the simple act of putting an extra toothbrush and toothpaste tube in the shower itself, right next to the shampoo. I was already naturally showering every day, so why couldn’t I remember to do my teeth? I could, I just had to stick the needed ingredients somehow in a place where my absent-minded motivation could access them. Now, I do my dentists proud (If only I could not drink so much chai. Alas!).

When it comes to forming new habits, as my former team leader used to say, let’s put it down real low where the chickens can get it. It’s hard to start new habits cold-Turkey. Like geese flying in a V-formation, new habits can be better carried along on the energy of habits already-established (that’s three bird analogies right in a row, mind you).

So, if you are like me and sometimes despair of ever having the motivation to start that thing you know you need to start, you may want to give this habit-forming trick a shot. Attach a new habit to something that is already a daily rhythm. I can testify that there is practical help to be found there.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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