The small decisions you make each day ultimately define what you truly value.
Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” When you look at your day today, what do you see? No matter what time it is right now, think back to what you’ve done since you woke up. Ask yourself these two questions.
- Do my actions today indicate I've gotten closer to or further from who I’m called to be?
- If today was every day, would I be developing or destructing?
Maybe today is a fluke in a bad way. Maybe you slept past your alarm, had two dozen donuts for breakfast, snapped at your kids, and then realized you forgot to pack your lunch as you stormed off to work. That’s okay—we all have days like that.
Today might also be a fluke in a good way. Maybe you woke up early for the first time in weeks, finished a marathon without training for it, took a break from donuts and had egg whites for breakfast, met your neighbor and helped him with his lawn, and dropped a few dollars in the donation jar. Also okay—but could be an anomaly.
What if, however, you were to answer these two questions each day for two weeks? After removing the outliers like the ones mentioned above, what remains? What common themes do you see in your days?
Many of these themes probably stem from your rituals.
Annie Dillard is right. Our days ultimately define our lives. The best way to set the agenda for our days is to take stock of our current habits, rid ourselves of the bad ones, and develop the ones that will get us closer to what we claim to value.
Start with your values
Before you shoot out the gate with a new marathon training program or impulsively go on a juice cleanse, take a step back. Doing things just to do them is fruitless. I interviewed my mom on the podcast about defining your values, and she had good insight into starting this work. Having a purpose behind your habits isn’t just nice, it’s essential for picking the right habits and sticking with them.
Here are some of my core values:
- Faith – Honor God with my life as a committed Christian.
- Family – Experience caring and close relationships with immediate and extended family members.
- Friends – Enjoy authentic relationships with my community.
- Fitness – Maintain a healthy mind and body.
- Finances – Steward well the resources in my care.
When you have a clear picture of your values, it’s impossible to make meaningful progress without putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward through tangible action steps. I get stuck here often. I come up with an idea and get excited about it, but never take it anywhere because I don’t break the "whole enchilada" into digestible bites.
This is the beauty of daily habits. Like our bank statements, the habits and disciplines we participate in regularly indicate what we truly care about.
What I’m currently tracking
Here are the daily habits and disciplines I’m systemically tracking. They all move me closer toward progress in each value I defined above. Many of these are also a part of my morning routine.
- Read the Bible and pray (6X/week). Regular time reading the Bible and praying for others grows my relationship with God and positively influences the way I relate with those around me.
- Write three things I'm grateful for in a gratitude journal (6X/week). Taking inventory on how I’ve been blessed shapes my perspective to be more optimistic and ultimately helps me become more faithful.
- Exercise (6X/week). Currently, this is a 30-minute run + weight training. This practice helps me maintain cardiovascular, muscular, and mental health.
- Take vitamins (6X/week). The effectiveness of vitamins is debated, which is why I used this infographic when I started taking them. I cycle a few supplements but am almost always taking fish oil and Vitamin D.
- Kiss my wife and tell her I love her (6X/week). Intentionally taking steps toward my spouse each day grows our relationship. My marriage sets the culture for my entire family.
- Participate in less than an hour of phone screen time (7X/week). Monitoring how much I’m on my smartphone ultimately serves my ability to grow stronger in my faith, family, friendships, and mental health.
Wait, but didn't you say daily? Why don't you try and do all these things every day?
Over time, I've realized it's important to have habits and disciplines that are sustainable. For most items on this list, I take Sundays off. The goal of all this isn't to sprint as hard as you can, beat yourself up when you miss a day, and operate out of a place of guilt.
The chief end is a lifestyle built on practices that cultivate a culture reflecting your true values.
This isn't about being regimented. It's about living fully into who you're called to be by doing the essential practices necessary to become that person. With this in mind, I set my baseline with room for grace, and if I do more than the baseline some weeks, great. If I strike out on a week, I remind myself this is about playing the long game.
Why you should track your habits, but not too many
I participate in plenty more habits regularly than are listed in this post. Some of them are done with a similar amount of intentionality. In future posts, I'll dig deeper into these practices. But, these are the habits I'm choosing to focus on tracking right now. There's a famous quote that says, "What gets measured gets done." The source of this quote is debated, but the premise is true. What we measure is what we ultimately work toward. When we're tracking habits rooted in our value system, we naturally see our value system becoming more apparent in our lives.
A common tendency is to try and track too much, however. When we list every possible good habit we'd like to acquire, we end up making little progress on any of them. It's important to narrow your focus. Instead of incremental progress on many things, tracking less allows you to make transformational progress on important priorities.
Where to track them: the Streaks app
I’ve toggled between paper-based systems and digital systems to track my habits, but no matter the system—I focus on going as many weeks in a row without breaking the streak. Having an unbroken streak isn't the ultimate goal as I mentioned, but it's an incentive keeping me moving forward.
Right now, I'm using a great tool called the Streaks app (one of my Top Ten items last month + something I share in common with this month's podcast guest, Scott Kedersha). Available for both iPhone and Android users, Streaks allows you the opportunity to input the habits you'd like to track, set how often you'd like to do them each week, and then check them off quickly as you complete them.
Streaks also has an iPhone widget, so if you set your phone up without any apps on your screen, you can still efficiently tick off habits each day.
"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."
Create and participate in daily habits moving you toward the life you're called to live.
Photo sourced via Creative Commons.