The chains of habit are too light to be felt, until they are too heavy to be broken. -Warren Buffet
I've been thinking a lot about habits. Starting sometime in June, Rory, my then 16-month daughter, began waking up in the middle of the night. I attributed it to teething most likely, because somehow with her we lucked out, and she never had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Well at this same time, I had recently discovered that I was pregnant with our 4th child, because, well, it happens. Due to the combination of nausea, sheer exhaustion, and ease, rather than taking the time to help Rory get back to sleep in her own crib, I just picked her up and took her back downstairs to bed with Dan and I. Fast forward 2 months...
Every...night...Rory wants to be rocked to sleep. Then, she promptly wakes up around 11pm, ready to be brought down to our bed. Until Sunday. Sunday I decided I was over this habit. I wanted my bed back. I wanted to drop her off in her crib at bedtime and not see her beautiful face until the next morning. So for the first time in her life, we started "sleep training."
I hate sleep training. It's exhausting. I actually get less sleep when I'm sleep training than when I just bring the kid to my bed. But I also love sleep training. It works for us. Some, yet sometimes more than I'd hoped, extra-effort nights later, there are real improvements. New habits are formed.
But why does it always seem that the bad habits start out with chains "too light to be felt, until they are too heavy to be broken," yet the good habits we desire seem to have chains that start out heavy? Those first few nights of grabbing Rory and just bringing her to my bed were thoughtless, really. Yet, before I even realized it, we had written a new habit into our nightlife that felt daunting to break. The habits I want, however, they start out feeling daunting!
At the end of each year, I spend several days reviewing the previous year, praying for the next, and planning out how I want to grow and what I want to accomplish in the next year. Then, I organize some form of strategy to see it all to fruition, which usually involves buying some new books, maybe a few apps, and mostly likely some random, cute stuff off of Etsy. Then I reorient my life schedule, penciling in earlier wake times, windows for exercise, spaces for self-care and pursuing all this growth and accomplishment I'm surely bound for! My enthusiasm lasts for a few weeks, and then life happens and I realize I was completely insane for thinking I had all this time and extra energy for any of this! The next thing I know, it's the end of the year and I'm left discouraged, yet somehow laughing too, at how far I failed to come.
Maybe that's the problem. I've realized that it's me who picks up the heaviest chains for the habits I desire. I start bad habits with a small, poor choice, whereas I always attempt to start good habits with huge, unreasonable expectations. This last year, Norah, my 6 year old, completed Kindergarten. Her school curriculum incorporated extensive memory work. At 6 years old, she can now recite Proverbs 3:1-12, James 1:2-18, and a 16-line poem from memory without even really thinking about it. It's incredible. But she started with 1 line, or 1 verse a week. Every day, she practiced this 1 line, this 1 verse. After a week or so, she added another. I remember thinking, "this is going to take forever!" And yes, it took a long time, and the effort was light, but the fruit was lasting.
So today, I encourage you to think about the habits you desire. And once you settle in on 1, dream big, but start small. Don't be afraid of the time that lies before you. Accept the slowness of the process, believing that one day, the chains of those good habits will be too heavy to be broken.