18 January 2022

Habits follow the Heart


Over the summer break I reread James Clear’s best seller, Atomic Habits. A good read for anyone pondering the shape of their lives in 2022. As the title suggests, habits, like atoms are the tiny building blocks of a much larger reality or outcome. Though small they are extremely powerful and over time, shape us into the people we are becoming.

Clear explains that our lives are all deeply influenced by habits driving us in either positive or negative directions. Our habits may leave us feeling productive or stressed, growing in a sense of purpose or languishing, building relationships or becoming isolated. And, Clear argues, our habits are a window into the heart and our sense of identity. That every action you take is a vote for the person you believe you are, or wish to become. Of course, it’s a two-way street and our sense of identity ultimately should shape our behaviours.

But what happens to life when the past two years have torn up many of the habits we’d established over what might be decades? Like say, reading on your daily commute, or dining with friends, or that annual holiday with family, or physically going to church on Sunday. I confess I fell out of bunch of good habits over the past few years, like exercise, like writing.... and healthy eating.

And what about those habits you formed in a pandemic? Maybe it’s a massive daily spike in your Netflix consumption, or caffeine consumption or an obsession with the news feed (ok that’s me). Of course, you may have also established some great new habits, like zooming your extended family regularly, or walking in the mornings or rediscovering an old discipline.

In my context, I’ve seen most people to varying degrees lose the habit of regularly gathering as a faith community. Covid really disrupted the rhythm of gathering and even though we have had a form of gathering continually available, it has been far less gratifying on line or in masks and distancing and an absence of song and lingering. Our lack of physical connection has for some even morphed into a deep lack of belonging in community and an entrenched hesitancy to return. I’m the last person who wants people to gather as church simply because it’s the religious thing to do, but I do think the past few years have robbed people of many of the unspoken delights that come from the good habit of regularly meeting together – like that feeling of belonging, connection, and shared mission.

So, as we all begin to emerge (again and hopefully for the last time) from another wave of the pandemic I think it’s time to ask:

Which habits do you want to keep or recapture, and which should be relegated to the pandemic years?

Perhaps the way to answer that question is by asking 2 other questions:

Who am I, and what kind of person do I want to become?

Ok, that’s a couple of really deep questions which I'm not sure I can even fully answer, but my hunch is that if we could approximately answer these questions we could better figure out which habits, rhythms and behaviours we want to prune from life, and which we want to resurrect.

There may be a sizeable gap between who you are, and the kind of person you want to become. That’s ok, we are all in that club. But nevertheless, what kind of person do you ultimately want to become? What do you want to be known for by your kids if you have them? What are you fundamentally about? At the end of your life, a life well lived looks like?

If we can honestly answer this we can then make choices that grow habits that take us in that direction. The constant danger is that we make a bunch of good things (like fitness, prosperity, career, influence or knowledge or anything apart from God), become the ultimate treasure of our lives. And when they are, you can be sure that our habits will follow the lead of our heart. That’s why our habits are so diagnostic of the heart and identity. They reveal what we treasure, what we believe about ourselves and who we are becoming.

So what is the real treasure your habits are running after in 2022?
And deep down, are you really ok with that?

When I think about what I most treasure in life and the person I want to be, there definitely are some new habits that aren't taking me there, and some older ones that I need to relearn.

How about you?