Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit makes the point that for all of us there are keystone habits and if we establish them they are likely to give rise to other habits that improve our lives and increase our success rates in life.
Good imagery: A keystone is “a large stone at the top of an arch that locks the other stones in place” (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
Most of what we do in a day is advanced by a series of habits. Depending on the quality of those habits, they either move us toward our life goals or they fritter away the opportunity to serve and achieve and grow, frustrating us in the process.
For example, we passively retire for bed at a different time every night, or we establish a pattern of the same bedtime for every night (possibly with some allowance on weekends). Or upon rising, we make our bed only if we feel like it, or we do so before departing the bedroom as one fixed element in our morning routine.
If we choose these two simple paired habits — regular bedtime and making our bed on a fixed schedule, together they can become keystone habits and without much further effort they result in unexpected benefits: we watch less late-night TV; feel more alive at work the next day; or we find ourselves with the time to straighten the house before leaving for work.
As Christians we would do well to heed the insight lodged in this idea — the idea that keystone habits tend to encourage and promote the development of other good habits. And in particular, they are supportive of the life of faith and righteousness.
Here’s a representative keystone resolution concerning good habits of faith made by the ancient psalmist, David.
He wrote: “Every day I will praise you, and extol your name for ever and ever” (Psalm 145:2). We may say “I do that, sort of.” But that’s like saying, “I retire every night on a time schedule, sort of.” The psalmist is making his pledge with the intent of making it a robust habit, as to “my God the King.” Moreover, his pledge is lavish: “I will extol. Praise. Exalt.”
To extol means more than to offer a polite thank you; it means to praise enthusiastically or lavishly, or without restraint. Extolling is the way we would express ourselves to a doctor who has brilliantly saved a loved one from death. Or a philanthropist whom we discover had paid off our mortgage unasked.
We note King David unfolds reasons for his promise of lavish daily praise: “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” (verse 8). “The Lord is good to all, he has compassion on all he has made” (verse 9). “The Lord is faithful to all his promises, and loving toward all he has made” (verse 13b).
But the blessings that activate the psalmist’s praises involve infinitely more than the good things of this life even if that currency is given in large amounts. His praises will be given “for ever and ever.”
So we commit ourselves to extol the Lord daily and when we wake up in the morning our first thoughts are of the goodness of our “ God the King.” He rules. I am his subject. He knows me personally. His goodness enfolds me.
Then, before arising we recall specific moments of his mercies and as the list grows and we see how favored we are by his care we extol him. As we do, we renew our intent to extol him not only for 2017 but as long as life lasts – and then through all eternity.
This is a resolution to establish at least one keystone habit at the opening of this New Year. We do so with the expectation that this in turn will lock together other resolutions thus greatly enriching the life of faith we will live during 2017.
Photo credit: Blondinrikard Fröberg (via flickr.com)