One of the tools I use to keep going in my daily habits, routines and disciplines is a concept I call: “Stretching”.
As most people who have tried implementing daily habits have noticed – consistency is a struggle. What starts out as a fun and rewarding activity (such as exercise, studying, writing, reading etc) can soon become an activity we resent, get bored of, forget to do, skip and ultimately quit doing. So how can we keep going? How can we keep engaging in these rewarding projects, routines and lifestyle decisions?
Habit is, after all, the means by which we can implement steady change and growth in our lives over time. They are encouraged in the Bible (see Psalm 1:2 habits of meditating on scripture, Luke 22:39 habits of prayer and Hebrews 10:25 habits of fellowship). They are also endorsed by most popular “self-help” authors (see The Power of Habit, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Atomic Habits)
So how do we fight against this “habit-fatigue”?
One solution is what I call “Stretching”. If we find ourselves doing the same activity over and over again we will undoubtedly get bored. So it is important to stretch ourselves in these areas. The following three ideas can help us stretch:
1) We can regularly set outselves higher goals. Often the reason we stop engaging in useful habits is because of a feeling of success, of having already “made it”. This is why it is argued that telling other people about our resolves isn’t always useful – it produces a feeling of success just by telling people what you intend to do. It’s a feeling that satisfies so much that we feel we have already “made it” and stop. When we reach the goal of being able to run 5K, we can give up. Instead we ought to stretch ourselves by setting new and harder goals, for example running 10K, running 5K in 30minutes, etc.
2) Some habits are implemented in order to achieve a specific target and so setting new goals is important. However, for other habits the goal is “infinite” and we will never get there. For example “closer relationship with God”, or “maintain healthy body”, in these cases our stretching may look different. We may instead need to stretch by switching it up. In exercise this is often called Muscle Confusion. Our muscles quickly get used to the routine we’ve set ourselves and so it is time for a switch – this is why workouts stop aching after a few weeks. We need to switch it up. For our prayer life, this may mean trying to write your prayers down in a journal, going for a prayer walk, inviting friends to pray with you or using pre-written prayers such as Lectio-365. By switching it up we can motivate ourselves to keep going in a specific direction, without necessarily having habits that have the same form.
3) A third way to stretch yourself in the habits you engage with is to teach it to others, or at least bring others alongside. Helping others to adopt the disciplines and habits of a live well-lived. This is often intimidating, especially if we don’t feel like an “expert”, but it is a crucial part of apprenticeship, discipleship and continuing in habits. It is why the last step in the Alcoholics Anonymous, 12 Step Program, is to carry the message to other alcoholics.
John Maxwell calls the concept of stretching: The Law of the Rubber Band. Just as a rubber band must be stretched in order to function properly, we too must continually seek to stretch ourselves in order to grow. Habits, naturally, are a great way to consolidate knowledge, skills and patterns in our lives. But our habits must not be static – seek to stretch your daily disciplines on a weekly/fortnightly basis in order to find the motivation to keep going.