If I were to write a list of all the things I need to improve, it could easily be a book. There are so many things I’d like to see change: a better schedule, more consistent devotions routine, better social habits, healthier eating, more exercising, more reading. But when I’m confronted with such a laundry list of things to work on, I often end up making little to no progress. After all, why do today what I can put off until tomorrow?
Road closed for construction
Over a year ago, construction trucks closed a lane on a street about a block from where I live, forcing all local traffic to find a new southbound route. The plan was to redo a four-way stop, and I think they are widening the street, too.
Months into the project, the nearby intersection looks great: clean, bigger, open. But the road itself is still closed to through traffic, increasing my drive time due to the detour. There’s been somewhat steady progress (occasionally thwarted by weather), but it’s been slow.
That construction project reminds me of all the areas I’d like to grow. I need to bulldoze habits and revamp schedules, but it’s challenging to undertake what seems like a daunting project when I still have daily life to live. Normal workload. Church responsibilities. Recurring tasks and chores.
One step at a time
Those construction workers would likely have completed their project by now had they just closed the road completely for a couple months. It seems to me that constant car traffic a few feet away from where they’re digging holes and pouring asphalt probably slows their progress. But closing the street would block hundreds of residents’ access to their homes — not to mention further complicate response times for the fire trucks housed on that street.
In the same way, I like to imagine I could knock out a few of my self-improvement projects if I could take a break from life’s regular responsibilities for a while. Whether that would actually help is up for debate, but even if so, it’d be a moot point; signing off of regular responsibilities just isn’t feasible right now. Besides, setting up new habits without the distraction of daily life would probably just set me up for dropping those new habits once I returned to my usual routine.
Like those construction workers, I need to build new habits and tear down old ones while still completing my day-to-day work. If you agree, here are a few things we can all try:
Set realistic goals. Keep in mind what your daily responsibilities are. Don’t plan to go from never exercising to running four miles a day overnight. That isn’t sustainable.
Pick one thing at a time. Choose slow but steady steps. What is one thing you want to work on for the next few weeks? (Yes, weeks. We can’t expect to cross this off our list by Friday and then start the next one.) For me, I’m going to start getting up earlier. Decide what your one thing is and how you’ll measure success. Simply getting up earlier than you did last week? Or by a specific time each day? Every day, or four days a week?
Find someone who can keep you accountable. Who will check in and see if you’ve stuck to your goal? Knowing someone else is aware of your goal does wonders for keeping you on track. No more does falling off the wagon mean only private failure — now you have someone else who will know if you quit.
Just start. Seriously. Just do it. This is where I so often get bogged down. Why do today what I could put off until tomorrow? But as Edith Schaeffer wrote, “We foolish mortals sometimes live through years not realizing how short life is, and that today is our life.” The more I put something off, the more that pattern defines my life.
You’ll see progress
Before I finished writing this, I texted a friend to tell her my goal to get up earlier. She may share her own goal with me, which will likely spur both of us to stick to our budding habits.
Like that road construction project, the process will likely be slow. But if I can make steady steps forward, in a few months I just may see some progress.