Unforced Rhythms

The 3 Best Habits to Have in Life

I’m sorry if you were hoping for specifics. I’m not going to tell you to make your bed, get up early or have a daily meditation time.

Those are good habits, but many people fail miserably trying to adopt them. Usually, it’s because they mistake them for “switches” you simply flick on, like the lights in your house.

For years, I told people to do stuff like this – as though there were across-the-board switches that would work every time, if people would just do them. Now, I know a little better; we’re more complicated than that, and you can’t just name the three best habits to have in life … can you?

Well, there’s a qualifying “light switch” answer to that too. As it turns out, habits aren’t simply cognitive either, as anyone who’s ever tried to quit a bad one can tell you. Ask “escaped prisoners” of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, pornography – I hate to pick on the usual suspects, but they have physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms.

So habits are physical, emotional and social as well. Your body and environment play a huge role, and that’s how we end up in this catch-22:

Are habits the problem, the solution, or both?

Some people think it boils down to willpower. You have to get out there and force yourself to take on good habits. Allow me a moment, as a pastor in a church, to nuke this with every fiber of my being! I have wept through watching people turn away from God because they couldn’t keep up the “I’m a good person” shtick.

Frankly, we need something a lot stronger than willpower. We need desire, that powerful engine that lures us into bad habits, by offering a lump of coal or a bill of goods disguised as happiness.

But desire isn’t going to be helpful, if your current “desire setting” is to continue chasing happiness in your bad habits. You won’t want to replace them unless you get a taste of something far better.

Why Habits Aren’t Like Pills

Society’s done a great job conditioning us to turn to pills. When you feel pain, take pills. Are you depressed? Take pills. Having trouble performing in bed? Take pills.

Science does some interesting things with our physical being. And don’t get me wrong … when I have a headache, a fever or allergies … I take my pills!

But when it comes to habits, I think we hope for the same thing: a simple prescription from our doctor. You swallow the pills, and next thing you know, you’re right as rain. So, for example, if you simply start a new habit of reading, that should cure your boredom.

Hold on a minute, though! If a physician can misdiagnose where physical pain comes from, isn’t it possible to have it completely wrong about spiritual pain?

Your boredom, in other words, might not come from a lack of reading at all. It might come from the fact that you’ve read a TON … but everything you read, which sounds exciting and romantic, is the complete opposite of your life.

THAT is a painful place to be … where happiness and fulfillment are only in your dreams, and reality is soul-sucking. Life often feels like you’re going in circles, doing the same boring, repetitive routine.

People join our Foundations program because they feel “stuck.” Their life is “in motion,” but it isn’t “going anywhere.” It’s a treadmill existence, running as hard as you can for the sake of feeling out of breath.

Once clients get close enough to us, we usually discover their lives haven’t grown stale by accident. It was habits that got them there … and now, they need a path to undo them and introduce new ones.

So far, so good … but wait! We’ve already agreed, haven’t we? Habits are not the same as pills. We’ll soon be going in circles ourselves, unless you continue reading – and I get to the three best habits for life.

How to Establish Unforced Rhythms

The best habits for life are the bad ones you kick, the necessary ones you improve and the better ones you form. It’s not whether playing chess is a good habit; it’s whether playing it causes you to deteriorate, run in place, or grow.

So, as you separate your habits out on a sheet of paper, here are three questions to jumpstart the process:

  • What is ONE unproductive behavior you habitually do?

These habits are important. They need to be done … but they turn into wastes of time, if they’re not prioritized or timed correctly.

I do my best work in the mornings, after an early rise to meditate and read Scripture. So you won’t find me looking at numbers, responding to e-mail or checking social media during those optimal morning hours.

Of course, I don’t neglect those habits completely – I just don’t mix them into my most productive time unless I’ve already completed my deep work for the day. So, if you have a habit of doing menial things during optimal times, you need to isolate and reduce them. One at a time, to the point of elimination it if possible.

  • What is ONE habit you wish you could do more of?

If it’s possible, these should take the place of whatever you’re reducing. Say, for example, you eat dessert with every dinner. It’s expanded your waistline, to the point you’re ready to cut back dessert to once a week.

The odds are you’re going to do something with the extra 10 minutes you’d normally spend lingering at the dinner table, eating dessert. Why turn it into idle time? Why not insert 10 to 15 minutes of something that nourishes your growth, such as drawing, or practicing magic tricks?

  • What’s ONE habit you wish you could do less?

Do you waste time on the internet or Netflix? Do you overeat, or drink and smoke? Are you a workaholic? Do you hide from responsibility and reality … in socially “good” things? (Pastors like me can find plenty of excuses to avoid things because we’re in “ministry.”)

Now, if several of these apply, don’t try to stop them all at once! Most people have more than one, because bad habits don’t usually “settle” for just five percent of your time. They’re more like cancer cells, “metastasizing” across your calendar, demanding an ever-increasing share of your attention.

Isolate one bad habit at a time, and don’t attempt to quit cold turkey. Start by minimizing what you normally do. Skip a meal. Leave the office on time or early … especially when you still have a lot to do! Turn your phone off for one hour a day. Tiny steps will lead to full-fledged walking, and eventually to the ability to sprint and run marathons.

Habits are the problem, and habits are the solution, but there’s a condition: you must consistently choose the right habits to eliminate, reduce and increase!

With this many variables in the equation, we recommend against doing this in isolation. The Foundations to Freedom framework provides the extra eyes, insight and strategy you need to shuffle the deck on your habits and reclaim achievement through unforced rhythms of discipline.

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