Do the Important Things – Part 1

Separating what is important from what’s not is half the battle on the journey to change.  In these times of constant distraction and endless opportunity, it is easy to get drawn into the fear of missing out and fill our schedules so full that there is no time or energy to prioritize.

After you have clarified what is important to you and set some goals, in order for change to happen, you must actually DO the thing you set out to do.  Once you have set a goal to train for a marathon, you have to run the first mile.  If you have decided to declutter your home, you have to actually find a box, put some things in it, and get rid of it. Why is it so hard to take these steps?

If you find it difficult to do what you would like to discipline yourself to do, you are in good company.

The Apostle Paul says in Romans 7:15

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

Why do I eat the chocolate at night when I WANT to break my snack habit?  What makes me decide to sit around drinking coffee when I WANT to get up and go for a run?  Why do I avoid that difficult conversation when I WANT reconciliation?  There is a battle raging within us and as soon as we can admit that, the better.

Once we establish a good habit, it can produce abundant fruit in our lives as we eliminate making a daily decisions to live our lives in line with our values.  The overwhelm that results from making many decisions is sometimes called decision fatigue.  The more we can transition our goals into habits, the less decision fatigue we will face, and the easier it will be for us to do the right thing at the right time.

There are things that we can do to make it easier for us to start new habits.

1.  Pray

Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established.  Proverbs 16:3

Pray and ask God to continue to affirm what He has put on your heart.  If you’re not sure what direction you should be taking, step back and take some time to seek Him.  I walk you through some questions to help you in my post If You Had a Magic Wand….

Be willing to continue on despite setbacks if you feel this is clearly where He is leading.  But I have also learned to never hold these things too tightly.  We have to be willing to change direction when He is ready.  No one can give you a formula on how to know this.  This is where time spent seeking Him, praying, and reading scripture is absolutely necessary.  If you are struggling with this, seek good Christian counsel.

2.  Find some easy wins.

First steps are often the most difficult.  The most difficult part of writing is finding the time and space to sit and do it.  The most difficult part of running is getting dressed and lacing up your shoes.  The hardest part of decluttering is getting out that box and looking at your stuff.  So, set out to take some easy steps.

What can you do this week that will take you a step closer to your goal without being overwhelming?  Maybe you can clean out a couple of drawers or one closet.  You could buy new exercise shoes and go for a couple of walks.  What if you went ahead and signed up for that race?  Perhaps you need to set your alarm 15 minutes earlier to have some quiet time with God.  Make a list of the actions you’d like to take this week and check them off as you do them.  Then give yourself credit for these wins.  Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  Old habits take time to undo so be gentle on yourself and don’t try to take on more than is reasonable.

3. Do it first.

As soon as I get out of bed in the morning, I stumble toward the coffee pot and pour a cup.  I have time for that first cup of coffee!  There is always time for what we do first.  What is the very first thing you do each day?  If you’re struggling to create a new habit, I would suggest that you think about doing it first.  I wish I could do many things first!  I would spend time praying, read scripture, exercise, shower, and write – all first!   Since it’s not possible to do ALL of your important tasks first, you could…

4.  Do it right after ______.

Why not take advantage of the previous principle and tie your new habits to your daily mileposts? There are things in our day that almost always happen.  For me, breakfast, lunch, dinner, my husband returning home, and my kids heading to bed are mileposts.  Your mileposts might include nap time, your kids coming home, arriving at work, or arriving home from work.

If I always read for a few minutes after lunch, since I do almost always eat lunch, it will make it easier to establish this as a habit. If I always write after breakfast, I no longer have to find the time.  It happens in my schedule and I don’t even need to put it on a to do list!  Sweet.

Take some time to think about your day and the kinds of things that (almost) always happen.  Then tie your new habits to one of these.  If you have more freedom with your schedule, you could even use the power of threes.  For example, this summer after breakfast, I generally write for an hour, do a 30 minute house chore session then head outside to work on the farm.  Three things are easy to remember and not overly complicated.  A great number to keep you focused!

5.  Get back on that horse.

Are there days when our plans get muddled?  Absolutely.  There are days that I am not at home after breakfast, so I don’t get to write, clean house, or work on the farm.  Some days our schedules gets hijacked.   At that point we have to look at our “distractions” and discern whether it is really a distraction – I am checking Facebook instead of working that mountain of laundry – or a God intervention – my son needs some help with his spelling or my neighbor needs to talk.

However, if I decide NOW that I will always TRY to read for a few minutes after lunch, that greatly increases the number of days that it actually happens.  It’s okay if it doesn’t happen today because I have to wash the dog after she rolled in horse manure (again) and smells to high heaven.  Tomorrow is another day and, Lord willing, I will get to that book after lunch for just a few minutes.

Leave a comment and let me know what new habits you’re planning to start on – or continue – this week.  I’d love to pray for you and cheer you on!  Check out the next post in this series,  Do the Important Things – Part 2 on even more ways to make it easier to do the important things.