How to keep making progress when your life hits turbulence.


Sometimes, your life hits turbulence and can feel like the disciplines, rituals, and practices you've put in place are impossible to maintain. When you enter a difficult or unpredictable season disrupting your ability to stick to a morning routine, eat exactly how you'd like to, or have each day look as regimented as the one before, it can be tempting to throw in the towel all together.

My wife and I recently welcomed a baby to the world. We're undoubtedly thanking God for this incredible gift, but a newborn has a certain way of disrupting your idea of comfort for a period of time. Erratic sleep often leads to days where you feel less energized than usual. This reality is a joy to be celebrated as a part of the journey, but in seasons like this one--it can be easy to let your health, relationship with God, and friendships suffer under a false pretense that "survival mode" means all progress must turn into regression.

In times of stress, sleeplessness, or pressure stemming from both good or difficult things, here are several things to keep in mind as you seek to keep making progress.

Be flexible. It's okay if you don't wake up at the same time every morning during unpredictable months. Give yourself permission to flex your disciplines for a certain time period knowing you'll be able to settle back into your routine after life finds a more stable cruising altitude. I've been waking up with my wife during nighttime and early morning feedings. This means my morning routine looks different than usual right now, and that's okay. When it comes to values-driven productivity, the goal is making progress on what matters. Serving my wife and newborn son matters, and the tenants of what happens in my morning routine can happen in a different way for a couple months. When our son is sleeping through the night, I know I'll be back to my schedule. Flex where you need to in order to keep what matters most in its rightful place.

Guard your Bible study and prayer life. Sleeplessness and stress often box out regular time with God. Press hard against the tendency to brush off Bible study and prayer as something you'll get to when things settle down. Intimacy with God is your lifeline in every season, but when life feels shaky, it's that much more important. It may not happen at the same time every day temporarily, but it should still happen--even if it means simply whispering a prayer of trust. "God I trust you, and I'd love for you to reveal yourself in this season" may not be a long prayer, but a little intentional time is better than no time at all. Find solace in scriptures highlighting times of turbulence for others. 

Get outside. Fresh air does wonders for the soul. It's easy to forget the medicinal value of a good walk when you're weary. Even if it's just for a few minutes or a lap around the block, step outside, breathe deeply, and get the blood flowing.

Exercise. Moving your body releases endorphins and provides mental clarity. When life feels crazy, you feel far less incentive to spend thirty minutes running, lifting weights, and/or getting your heart rate up. It feels counter-intuitive, but your ability to do something regularly for exercise creates a foundation. It may look different for a little while, but getting after it will have a positive impact on your mind, soul, and body.

Embrace your friends. Turbulence tempts you to isolate yourself. Resist the urge to seek comfort in aloneness. Continue to pursue your friends and allow them to help you. Let them set up a meal train, visit, and check on you. Continue to encourage others, even if it's through occasional text messages or voicemails. You may not be able to host as many dinners or stay out as late, but you can still have friends. We all need each other, especially in turbulent times. These seasons are an opportunity to grow your friendships to deeper levels as you allow others to enter into the craziness with you.

Keep your eating in check. When you haven't slept, a hamburger, fries, and milkshake sound amazing. Stress, anxiety, and/or exhaustion all lie to you and tell you junk food for every meal will help you feel better. When it's a novelty, unhealthy food can be fine. When you look to it for security or comfort in difficult times, however, it will end up hurting you more than helping you. A salad may not sound as good as fried food in the moment, but you'll feel much better after choosing the leafy greens. When you elect the healthy option most of the time, the unhealthy option becomes a welcome and guilt-free indulgence on occasion.

Remember what's important. Values-driven productivity is built on making progress that extends beyond self-improvement. Many times, it means emptying yourself for the sake of others. In turbulence, it's important to see your priorities clearly. Helping out with a newborn early in the morning is more important than sticking to a regimented wake-up time. Eating food someone brought you that might not perfectly align with your voluntary diet is a more important option than insulting the relationship and letting food go to waste. But that doesn't mean you still don't do what you need to do in the morning and pursue healthy eating. It just means doing these things in the right order and with the right importance.

Don't beat yourself up. Making progress when life hits turbulence is going to often be a two steps forward, one step back endeavor. You'll make mistakes. You'll eat cheesecake because you think it will make you feel less tired. You might skip a workout, hurt a friend out of anger stemming from sleeplessness, snap at your spouse, or try and shop away your stress. Guilt and condemnation aren't your friends. They're enemies of progress and will drive you away. Shame isn't a preferred accountability partner. Repent when you need to and keep going. Paul experienced many turbulent moments in his life, and he penned, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

Whether you're joyfully welcoming a newborn or painfully dealing with an immense challenge, it's possible to continue making progress on things that matter. Keep going, and keep extending grace to yourself and others along the way.

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