The psychology of developing good habits (and getting rid of old ones) is pretty well understood (not that we really needed psychology to tell us things we already knew). In fact, if we do not have a routine that sanctifies us, protects us from the worst of our temptations, and allows us to best fulfill our calling to love God and serve our neighbor… it really is no one’s fault but our own.
We need to do a serious evaluation of our routines to make sure that we have 1) removed the things that are impeding us and 2) doing the things that bring us spiritual, mental, and physical health and strength. The liturgical year has such periodic evaluations built-in; we call them “fasts”. We’re in the midst of a fast right now, so let’s take a look at our routines.
Thanks to the advice of my friend Bill Marianes, I did this very thing during Dormition Lent. He encouraged me to look at 1) the things I was doing well (and then to keep doing them) and add 2-3 things that I should be doing but was not (and start doing them); 2) the things that I was doing that might cause problems (and to tighten up on them) and 3) the things that I was doing that were hurting me and stop them.
For number one, I knew that I needed to be working out, so I added running (physical health); that I needed to be consistent in meditating as part of my prayer rule (mental health); and that I needed to devote a certain part of my day to learning Ukrainian and writing (mental health).
The next step was figuring out when to do this. For me, it has to be in the morning. Once the kids are up, the phone starts ringing (that is now largely a metaphor for texts and e-mails), and the work routines kick in, any chance for a repeatable routine is gone (until they go to bed; although for reasons that will soon become clear, I am not a night owl).
So since the Dormition Fast, I have been getting up at 4 or 5AM every morning (the earlier hours are for when I teach, serve liturgy, or travel in the morning) and go through my morning routine. It’s always the same. From the way I pattern getting dressed (I lay everything out the night before) to the way I feed the dogs (if I’m up, they have to be up, too), to the time I spend on each thing (meditation – 10 minutes, prayer rule – five minutes, reading scripture – five minutes, duolingo – twenty minutes, running – one hour, working out – 15 minutes, writing – 30 minutes), to the way I reward the behavior … it’s the same every day. When I have to make a change (as from running outside to running on the treadmill), once the change is made, it doesn’t vary. There are no choices to be made and no energy to be expended in making decisions. My alarm clock (a Phillips thing that wakes me up with a gradual supernova of bright light) is the trigger; everything flows from it like a bullet from a gun.
And the result? It works. I am consistently healthy, engaged, and as efficient as can be. I’ve also lost 30 of the 50 pounds that came with my ordination (my “freshman fifty”). Glory to God.
I’m not advocating any particul rule; but I am advocating that you have a rule, that you be intentional in its creation, that you evaluate and modify it each fasting season, and that you make it as much a part of your day as breathing and praising the Lord.