One of my summer goals was to reinstate a habit of writing. Some weeks were good, others not so much. But, I’m seeing progress. I’m also seeing, though, that it’s not always about having time for a habit. Sometimes, it’s about pushing through a bad case of “I don’t want to.” We’ve probably all faced that, in one way or another, in this strange year we’re experiencing. Here are some thoughts that came from an “I don’t want to” day a couple of weeks ago…
Today I have a few minutes to write. Lunch is an easy prep since I’m just warming up soup that’s already in the fridge, celebrating an August day in the 80s (not at all a norm for an Arkansas summer). And I just completed another course to prepare for our official homeschool start in two weeks. Almost to that finish line! So, I have time to sit down and write a few hundred words.
The problem is, I don’t want to. It’s not the out-of-habit issue that leads to staring at a blank screen, although it has been a couple of weeks since I’ve written regularly. It’s just that, emotionally, I don’t want to hash through what’s in my head.
That’s the thing about healthy habits. (And yes, for me, writing is a healthy habit.) A healthy habit — and a healthy lifestyle — insists that we confront our thoughts, emotions, struggles, and successes head-on. We have to think about them. Deal with them. Not just every now and then, but day after day after day without fail.
Even the simplest healthy habit like brushing my teeth daily makes me aware of the health of my teeth. How are they doing? What do I need to do to keep them healthier? Improve their health? Maybe I don’t consciously run through these questions every time, but the evaluation is there.
But some of the healthy habits are more in-your-face than others. Like writing. With writing, I have to process my thoughts. I have no choice. And sometimes I just don’t want to.
A habit, by nature and definition, makes the decision for us. My habit every morning is to get up, put on exercise clothes, work through a weight routine, and then go walking. The decision is made. I don’t make the decision to do all of that every morning. The habit makes the decision for me. If I do not go through that routine, then I’m making the decision not to. And that takes more effort, because then I have to rethink the flow and routine of my morning. So, as much as I do not enjoy setting the alarm early enough to get up and exercise — nor do I like the exercise itself — it’s more of a hassle to have to decide what to do with my messed-up morning. So, I exercise.
As a result, I face the health realities connected to my need for exercise head-on. Day in and day out. My weight. My eating habits. My overall health. All tied to that habit.
The writing habit, in turn, decides for me that I will deal with the cacophony of thoughts in my head. And that’s a good thing. Because when I let them pile up, they wreak havoc. They cause stress and depression. They magnify uncertainty and strengthen confusion. It’s work enough to deal with them on a daily basis. But, when they pile up? It’s downright exhausting! So, I need a habit to decide that I’m going to write, whether I want to or not.
Of course, destructive habits are no different. We have good intentions, but if our habits are unhealthy, they make the decisions for us. And our “want to” struggles to stand against them. It’s not hopeless. We can break destructive habits and build healthy ones with will power. But, if we don’t apply that will power, our habits will win. They will make the decisions.
May we always be aware of our habits. Of our healthy ones and our destructive ones. Of the evaluations they force us to make. Of the power they hold over our lives. Because when it comes down to it, our habits — not our “want tos” — are what truly shape us. What shape do we want?