A few months ago, while hiking a trail in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan, I noticed how effortlessly our group traversed the winding paths over rocks, under broken branches, through groves of trees, and along the water’s edge. What would have been a challenging route a hundred years ago today required little more than the ability to walk upright. As the trails twisted left or right, signs along the way pointed toward destinations of our choosing: South Shore, North Trail, Parking Lot
I noticed as we trudged through wooded areas the topography had dramatic variances. Even the stones we walked over differed in size from tiny pebbles to potato sized rocks. Glancing left and right revealed patches of ground resembling trails but proved impassable due to overgrown brush and fallen logs.
What’s significant about a path?
Such a striking difference between over-worn paths and over-grown paths. What is it that caused one path to emerge as the acceptable route for hiking while the other diverged into obscurity? The official trail could have been any of those passageways hidden under thick, overgrown foliage. The key to the worn path, the preferred path, the normal path is frequency. The hundreds of times that path was chosen over the other and the frequency of actions – steps multiplied. Repeated choices and repeated actions.
Just as rugged terrain in the Keweenaw became a well-worn, passable trail, repeated travel and trampling by multiple feet for multiple years, our repeated choices and actions become ingrained habits of our existence. Habits are like our worn path.
To break a habit, get off that path.
To form a new habit, get on a new path.
Both are difficult. The reason is because habits form neural pathways in our brains. We humans crave the familiar and resist change, even if it’s good for us. While it is possible to break a habit or form a new one, expect it to take effort, because making new neural pathways is like forging a trail through overgrown brush and fallen trees. Expect some rocky moments, a few boulders, and even setbacks.
It helps to know your why
It’s easy to say, “I want to spend 30 minutes outside every day.” or “I am going to read one book every month.” or “I’m going to exercise before /after work every day.” Those are good habits to form, but simply committing to them is a weak foundation.
The stronger foundation for any of those changes is know your why. Why do you want to make ‘that thing’ a path you continually trek every day or week? And there’s that nagging option of choice when you’d rather mindlessly watch TV than read a book. Staying inside on the couch is more appealing than putting on shoes and going outside.
Cement this thought into your conscious commitment. What do you want more? The familiar habit that drags you down or the new habit that raises you up.
What will you do to make that idea, action item, or goal a reality? Start small. It helps to have a Plan B to fall back on if Plan A gets a little fickle. Full transparency here, I have a Plan C….maybe even Plan H.
Remember. New habits are just hard.
I don’t have it all together. I am still working on new habits that by some standards are now old habits that I continually renew. Like this one, Pursue Peace
On my desk I have a reminder of how to flood my soul with peace, so it carries over into my day after day life. Pursuing peace means the pieces of my day are Prayer, Exercise, Accountability, Contentment (gratitude),
Do I flawlessly make each of those pieces part of my day, no. But I know why my goal is to pursue peace and when I get off track, it’s easier to talk myself off the ledge of giving up.
My verse for this year is Philippians 4:8 and also verse 9.
Philippians 4:8-9 says: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
A life of peace starts with thoughts that are peace-filled. Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right … start there.
Thoughts become Actions
Actions become Habits
Habits become Lifestyle
1Peter1: 6-8 says: Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
4 thoughts on “It’s Hard. Just Start.”
Jane, I placed a Christmas card on my kitchen countertop the front a beautiful script in gold, PEACE. I have had the urge to leave it as to remind me and stir reflection. You have expanded my thought by your pieces of your day being Prayer, Exercise, Accountability,Contentment,(Gratitude),Encourage
Marilyn, I received your letter today. I pray you soon find the source of your pain as well as a solution. I support your idea of having a visual reminder that Jesus is peace and he wants us to experience his peace. The enemy of our souls wants nothing more than to keep us in a cycle of defeat and fretfulness. Don’t let him get a foothold. Ephesians 4:27
Such a beautiful piece. Before I reached the text, I thought to myself, “Oh, this makes me think of making new neural pathways!” Then… you went right there… I didn’t even know you were leading me.
We admire and talk so much about the people who forged the first paths of America. How brave. Sometimes we dream and imagine what it would be like if WE were the ones who did that – – – we are full of so much admiration for their work – – – and so much gratitude that we get to travel the paths of those who forged the path before us.
It gives me a new perspective. When the habit-making (or breaking) feels hard, I can imagine the first settlers … their bravery … and follow suit. I love to mimic my heroes.
Amy, thank you for taking time to read and respond to this piece. I remember when I realized New Years Resolutions weren’t serving me, but making and breaking habits through the year made a positive outcome far better than resolutions. Those neural pathways have no calendar. Amy, I am thankful that you are on this writing journey alongside me and those in the cohort. May we learn, grow, and use our gifts for God’s glory.