We established last week that even moms need to grow. We, as well as our children, are persons and must both feed and exercise our souls, bodies, minds, and hearts.
But how? How much time will this take? After all, it’s not like we have a bunch of spare time for various new exercise and study regimens.
The time factor is just one reason habits are so effective and compelling. A small habit has an outsized effect for the effort and time it takes. It is the repetition of the small habit that builds its power, not one instance. Like Anthony Trollope said:
A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.
So when we build habits, we can choose small, simple, short actions that don’t take 30 or 60 minutes in a chunk out of our day, yet still allow us to reap the rewards of a renewed spirit, soul, mind, and strength.
Let’s look at one small habit for growing and developing each area of our personhood.
We need to grow a prayer habit to feed our souls.
Although a dedicated devotional prayer time should be an entry in our daily time budget, it’s not the only way to pray.
“Pray without ceasing” commands Scripture, and we can build up that habit with short and simple prayers woven into our days.
Such prayers are built one at a time, not added in all at once.
Instead of envisioning the final product we want and trying to leap and implement the whole thing at once, we need to remain humble, remember our frame as God does, and start incrementally, one by one.
One 15-second prayer in the morning is the first baby step toward a life of prayer. A 15-second prayer can be tied to a trigger like washing your hands which happens even on no-good, very bad days (the kind of days we most need prayer). A 15-second prayer habit can grow and multiply and become a way of turning to God and setting our minds on things above during every small transition in our day, because it’s doable and because, bit by bit, we grow to appreciate and love prayer itself, talking to God rather than listening to ourselves.
We need to grow a movement habit to fuel our bodies.
Twenty-thirty minutes of exercise might be the recommended daily allotment, and we can work on building that into our days, but as mothers our days are often not our own.
Injuries, illnesses, babies, bad weather – all can conspire against our best-laid intentions and plans.
So what about building small habits of extra movement and muscle strengthening? They might not give us the cardio that’s best for us, but they’re a start. They’re a way of building an identity as someone who is healthy and strong rather than weak and self-indulgent.
Make it a habit to use the bathroom that requires you to do an extra set of stairs, or do 3 quick squats after washing your hands. Maybe you can require 5 jumping jacks or 3 push ups before you get your coffee or while the coffee brews.
The important thing with such habits is not that they’ll bring weight loss in themselves, but that we practice the character change of being someone who uses and grows physical strength, energy, and toughness.
We need to grow a reading habit to fill our minds.
Once again, when we want more reading in our lives, we usually set goals like reading 30 minutes every day. It’s a good goal, but if it’s not sticking, start smaller.
Try, like Sarah Mackenzie, to pick up a book instead of your phone. Even if it’s only 3-5 minutes, it’s a habit replacement that will make a difference to your mood and your attention.
Perhaps while you eat breakfast or after you get into bed you can read one Psalm or one page from a devotional. Such a practice is only 3-5 minutes, but it will grow your mind, expand your thinking, and focus your attention.
Don’t despise the day of small beginnings. Such small starts increase our affections and change our tastes so that the bigger changes, the 30-minute time chunks we know we need, are easier to add later, because we really enjoy them.
But that affection change, desire reorientation, happens by wading in from the zero-clearance end of the pool, not jumping in the deep end.
We need to grow a true self-talk habit to focus our attitudes.
How and what you say to yourself in your own head might not be a habit you’ve considered before, but it’s an important one to take control of.
Giving yourself a motto to repeat or memorizing a needed Scripture gives you truth to quickly and readily turn to in the midst of daily fussing – from without and within.
Also, having truth repeated until it’s familiar softens our heart to the Spirit’s conviction and our consciences’ promptings.
The point of a short verse or motto is not mere memory, but quick prompting when we need it. To have it when we need it, we need to review it in calm.
When throughout the day – whether it’s at each meal, in the bathroom, at the kitchen sink, or some other daily action – we intentionally remind ourselves “Love is not irritable,” then in the moment we feel irritation rising, it will return to us like a thrown boomerang, prompting us to pray for God’s love – not only to cover our lack, but enough for us to overflow to others.
We need to grow a smiling habit to fortify our relationships.
Another habit we often don’t realize is a habit is how we respond to those we live with. Most of our responses are actually governed by habit more than our emotional state or conscious decision.
That should be encouraging, because it means we can use habit hacks to change the very atmosphere of our homes and the tone of our relationships.
Something as small as building the habit of looking into people’s eyes when they’re talking, smiling as you look up, or greeting someone who comes into the room are acts that build relationships and teach everyone around us how others should be treated.
We teach best by example, not preaching. Do we love? It will be seen in our actions – and on our faces. Starting with a simple smile reminds us to put others’ needs (for affection & approval) before our own (for peace, quiet, and solitude).