10 Habits to Break (and NOT live by) :: seriousness.

  I just stood there, my eyes filled with tears colored disappointment.

I expected something different and didn’t take well to the surprise.  My mother confused, bent low and spoke soft as she tried to understand how such a dead ringer of a gift could somehow bring grief to my bothered little soul.  But the other kids laughed and cheered in front of our fellow kindergarteners as they teetered with larger boxes and tore through endless amounts of wrapping paper.  I remember my turn; my eyes scanning the room hiding the ferocity of excitement within finally landed on the box being brought toward me.

The smallest of all boxes was laid before me.  Little primal like chants rose to fill the room buzzing with holiday mania, “OPEN IT! OPEN IT! OPEN IT!” When I did get through the wrapping paper and into the box, I discovered a toy unique and ill fit for the milieu of gifts setting in front of my classmates.  A toy truck, a gun, handcuffs, action hero figures, all seemed so similar and friendly to each other while the prosthetic like E.T. finger with light up tip stood out like a sore thumb - pun, now, delightfully intended.

To this day, E.T. remains one of my all time favorite movies.  As I think back, the alien wrinkled prosthetic finger gift my mother brought to my kindergarten Christmas party was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.  I missed the glory of going up to my friends, reciting the line, “E.T. phone home” and pressing the outstretched finger to demonstrate the complimentary light up function.

I was far too serious that day and in many days subsequent.

Life is days passing.  In the coming and going, the rising and falling, the good and bad, each day resembles the many before, but holds its own uniqueness.  Some days require seriousness and focused attention to see it all the way through.  A deadline met demands your consistent effort.  Without it, you don’t make the deadline.  The ability to focus in on project or responsibility typically brings you most of the way to successful completion.  Talent and experience alone can’t get you there dependably.

For every unapprehended dream, you’ll find an artist, athlete and aspiring professional who let go.

In regard to focus, the same holds true for parenting.  Consistency is king and a currency owning far greater value than most things you can give your child.  I maintain a low-grade focus fixed on who I see my daughters to one day be with a simple strategy: short daily prayers.  When I drop them off at school, as I return to pick them up at the end of the day, at bedtime and in the unplanned spaces throughout the day my memory prompts me to, I pray brief prayers for now and all grace needed to get us to then.  This seriousness I have learned to be absolutely vital to my parental effort, if not maintained, I see them only small and bound to now.

Herein lies seriousness’s trickiness in my life, a thin habit in need of breaking.

While all holds true to the necessity of seriousness in our aim for and achievement of success and completion in life, seriousness can also weigh our days unbalanced.  When we heavily focus, we risk losing sight of all else and robotically hone in only on one area.  Prolonged seriousness equals a preoccupied mind with little room for new ideas, inspiration and your best effort.  Like the little kindergartener years back, I easily settle into preoccupied thought leaving me unavailable to the moment and unable to see the bigger opportunity.

This habit rears its intrusive head in my creative life as well as my personal life.  I’m unavailable to new ideas and productive writing when I remain preoccupied in serious thought about the quality of my writing and how it will be read and received.  Likewise, I pull myself to the sidelines of my personal life, parenting included, when I disappear into seriousness on a preoccupied level – life happening right in front of me.

And so here’s the kung fu aggression to the habit of ill-balanced, preoccupied seriousness in my life: laugh and let go.

We can be so engaged in what seriousness reinforces as worshipful importance, that all becomes about us rather than us being alive in the surrounding panoramic.  Instead of a pensive disposition, I’m learning to disengage long enough to belly laugh better and leave fires burning to be more available to all that matters.

10 Habits to Break (and NOT live by) :: distraction.

focus I enter the day on fire already at dawn.

Each one lined up in demanding succession, already laying claim to time not yet, minutes too young to be accounted for, but they are before I even have the chance to live.  We live in some sort of deficit common to most and known by all.  Busy, we all are; some more than others by choice and some sinking in a devouring schedule.

It appears that life demands more at different times.  My schedule is busier now than I can ever remember, and balancing all of it seems more than daunting of a task most days.  Like plates spinning threatening crash and disruption of symphony - items on my calendar, tasks stacked in my to do list, appointments butting up to each other, project deadlines, responsibilities, opportunities, ideas - my days blur and bleed into each other, a monochromatic smear undistinguishable from the one before.

Just the other day, after juggling work meetings, finishing a writing project and coaching my little first grader through addition problems, I asked her if it was really Thursday.  She, matter-of-factly replied, “I don’t know.”  So we were both lost and disappeared back into our work because bath time, dinner and family talk awaited us, impatiently.

You get it just like I get it: we’re all busy, probably more than we should be.

My habit in busyness, distraction.

At the root of busy, I find deeper tension between the struggle for validation and meaning and reverently bowing low to idols of effort and independence.  Rather than reveling in sunset, I’m transfixed by the moving parts on my wristwatch, aware that the day is moving and afraid of being left behind.  So I scurry through the day ping ponging through dinging calendar alerts, scribbled notes and nearly forgotten ideas, all while new ‘things’ pull for attention.  I allow the distraction which devours focus and forwardness.  Lost in diverging moments, distraction splinters my effortful progression and the plates spin unattended, stretching the day endlessly into the next.

I’ve learned much more about myself the busier life has become.  For starters, I’m not as patient as I considered myself to be.  In fact, patience is a forgotten virtue as I speed through the day making frequent unplanned detours - distractions.

Less busy makes little sense, actually, like commanding the day to stop so that you can catch up.  If all I do is try to not be so busy, I get busier trying not to be busy - my life diminishes to schedule reduction rather than meaningful progress into accomplishing dreams and all that truly matters.  My family doesn’t need a less busier me; they need an intentionally present me.

To be clear, busyness isn’t the beast, distraction is.  And prone to distraction typically points to ungrace ruling my heart, a term Phillip Yancey describes as a path chosen lacking grace.  Reduce my distracted heart down beyond the frantic and rotten core issues are uncovered that are far more concerning than the mere pace in which I move through each day.

How I move troubles me.

The chasing after words to be written, the rushing through meetings, the whining about time’s apparent poverty and the weariness of it all give thorough evidence of a fragmented focus continually falling victim to a heart lacking grace and grasping to earn its way in life.  When, in our minds and hearts, we have to earn all that is good, enjoyable and meaningful in life, our focus fragments, dividing day to parts of life rather than simply the pursuit of life good, despite circumstance, and acceptance of grace.

The habit of distraction must be unsubscribed to, let go of, in the acceptance of grace - the reality of God distributing good to those good, and bad.  In light of grace’s freeing reality, my focus can steady on what matters and must be attended to while distractions fit to satisfy a broken, ungraceful heart can be ignored and discounted as muted enemies.

10 Habits to Break :: procrastination

man_looking_at_stack_of_papers There is a rhythm to all that we do, and don’t do.

What we allow and avoid, what we do and don’t and how we invest in the day and waste apparent opportunities serves to give insight to who we are, what we believe true and even our trust in all that is bigger, in God.

Despite common knee-jerk response, procrastination isn’t a total package negative thing.  Quite simply, procrastination is to intentionally delay in doing something.  Not completing an assignment could be the result of not knowing how to complete the assignment.  The inactivity cannot be a fully bad thing if the alternative is to complete the assignment incorrectly.  This space, or pause, on the way to finishing the assignment can be the precise place of learning and maturity. Often, in difficulty, learning escapes us.

As we sat there angled across from each other at the dining table, she just stared at the problem, deadlocked in can’t and frustrated with my question.

“What do you think?” I asked.

Silence hung between us as if she didn’t hear my question so after an extended pause, I asked her again, and again.  Finally, she forced out a frustrated response making it clear that if she did know, she wouldn’t just be staring at the problem but would solve it.

Elizabeth, my oldest, is a lot like me, in that she fears not being able to measure up to who and what she should be in her mind.  I struggle with it as a writer, as a father, as a son and everything else that I set out to accomplish.  If I can’t win, I quit.  It’s the reason I quit writing my book hundreds of times before I thankfully finished.  Just as Lizzie was deadlocked in her inability to solve a new mathematical word problem, I disengage in times I don’t have the answer, can’t see the process to completion or don’t know how to handle myself.

Procrastination, in and of itself, is not the enemy, but a needful pause to impulse or incomplete thought calling for space to process.  And yet if inactivity is the only effort given, procrastination grows into habitual response.

More so, the cause for procrastinate behavior allowed and extended must be dealt with.  I have to overcome fear of failure, disappointment or inability, in times of procrastination to avoid habit setting in deep ruts and rhythms in my life.

Back at the table, in the paralyzing silence between us, I asked a new question, one that nudged her thoughts into action.  I didn’t give her the answer to her problem directly, but tried to lead her to fearlessly trying even though she was insecure in her ability to answer correctly.  The point wasn’t whether or not she answered correctly, but that she moved from inactivity to activity as to avoid procrastination only setting in as a defining habit in difficulty.

Simply, she solved the problem she thought unsolvable by continuing.  It’s amazing the things we could do if we only did not procrastinate them away.  Snoozing the alarm clock every morning could be just snoozing the alarm clock, or it could be a habit chosen, given space to grow and affect your action and aim in life.  Just as waiting until the eleventh hour to finish a project you committed to, avoiding responsibility while given to any and all available distractions, rescheduling meetings, pausing in pursuit of a dream bigger than yourself and shelving all hope that you can accomplish what you set out to.

Procrastination delays many abled men from doing what they ought to do - but it is always the man who determines himself not abled that habit of delay becomes a growing regular foe.

In breaking unwanted, unhelpful habits, it is not enough to just stop doing something.  That habit must be replaced with a better understanding.

In each moment I begin to fade from difficulty and withdraw to inactivity, I pray for the grace God has built into each day.  Whether I lack the creativity to transpose thoughts to paper accurately or parent my daughters through difficult waters, grace gives me the courage to pause properly knowing that God will be faithful to lead me through.


image credit: philnel.com


10 Habits to Break (and NOT Live By)

brick-labyrinth We are creatures of habit calling for change yet comfortable in our worn rhythms.  Months quick fade to years and our feet settle, unable to step out of the smallest rut.

Some jump to categorize habits as bad behaviors needed to be broken, but this is only half true.  Habits are not enemies - how we hold to them are.  People live in good habits for a lifetime and live life well.  Living a healthy life requires healthy habits.  These healthy habits act as an infrastructure insuring goals and guiding to actual accomplishment.

The discipline of an artist diligent at early light leads to productivity and development while the artist who sleeps only dreams of what he might do. Contrarily, bad habits often lead us away from where we want to be and deeper into a crippled life.  For as many reasons as I can think of and prop against, the only reason for bad habits tolerated in my life . . . is me.  I hold on to habits that work against my desired course and aimed for outcomes.  I slow myself down, follow paths to dead ends, dream more than do and sleep later than I should.

Maybe you’re like me in that you flirt with the life you’d like more often than put your feet on to its path and push one foot forward.  I tend to move forward in spurts.  I get distracted and lazy and allow bad habits to occupy space that sucks time like a vacuum.

I’ve compiled a list of hold-me-down habits that need breaking, over and over again.

procrastination    fear   worry    small     idleness      distraction       seriousness        familiar independence, safety

I could probably continue to list habits that need discontinuing, but these are recurring behaviors and mindsets that I need to dislodge myself from.  I’ll spend time writing about each of these a bit more in depth in weeks ahead.

Surely you have a list, too.

Find a quiet corner with pen and paper and take time to envision the life that you want to live but because of allowed bad habits, are not living it.  List every habit holding you back, slowing you down and limiting your reach.  But don’t stop there.

Make a replacement plan.  Every bad habit must be replaced with something to reprogram your activity and focus.

And here’s a big reminder: your effort will always be small and limited.

Pray for God’s strong grace in each and every one of your days.

Setting habits is more than mere behavior modification.  It is not a case of behavior but of what you belong to.  Each day belong to the gifts that God has created in you and the day that He created you for.

Do This and Start Living Well.

BB1162-002 At a glance over my shoulder, I spy many opportunities un-taken, aspirations abandoned, ideas given up on and life unfinished, in the fading distance behind.

Life left waiting.

Cards on the table face down in front of an empty swiveling chair.  Chalk the unfinished business up to a risk too demanding or a challenge deemed too daunting.  Either way it adds up to life incomplete, damaged and maimed by our choosing to not do rather than to do.  I feel as though every one of them outlines a small death of me on sidewalks behind.

For me, it was no different with the book I almost didn’t write.  I threatened abandon nearly every day.  Some evenings crawled by.  Minutes hung suspended in time as I procrastinated and counted excuses worthy of attention and affection.  I hated my pen and loathed the empty sound of would be keystrokes.

After all, writers should write . . . right?

And what if a writer doesn’t write?  Is he really a writer?  Or did he one day dream too high, much higher than his reach?

Even after writing a book, words don’t necessarily come easy for me, and that is precisely the point.  We find ourselves, not in what we produce but in the process - along the way to finishing what we started, even it was a late night, our hearts swelled with possibility and we swore we’d do it.  

Life is about finishing and in finishing, we learn to live well; much better than we ever could by taking the easier route around the mountain.  Up the mountain or through the mountain, but not around the mountain.

The one thing you can do to change the course and forecast of your life ahead is to finish.

Right here in this very moment don’t just nod your head and sink a bit in guilty agreement.  Finish.

Deny yourself escape and abandon and write the chapter, have the conversation, draw the plans, take out the trash, clear the garage, send the resume, schedule the class, buy the ring, book the trip.


Here’s all you need to become a consistent finisher: talent just don’t quit.