I scrolled through Facebook until a Disney meme caught my eye.
It was a picture of a Cruella de Vil driving with clenched fists, bloodshot eyes, and frizzy hair. The caption read: “Me trying to excel in my career, maintain a social life, drink enough water, exercise, text everyone back, stay sane, survive, and be happy.”
I chuckled to myself, thinking, “Sounds about right.”
We Know We are Made for More
Many of us can relate to that meme. We know we are supposed to be healthy, pursue virtue, and follow God’s will for our lives. It is a lot to balance, but we know that those are the things necessary to thrive. But how do we do it all without turning into a Disney villain?
At the time I saw that meme, I was beginning to discover the hard way what I needed to do to thrive. After being diagnosed with a chronic disease, I realized that I needed to live a more balanced life. But every time I started, I felt like I would go two steps backward. I would quickly give up new habits out of exhaustion, confusion, and burnout. This only left me more confused and burnt out.
Then I heard a line from Matthew Kelly that got me thinking: “Our lives change when our habits change.” I realized that habits were the key to beginning to thrive and have life to the full as Jesus wants us to (see John 10: 10)
The Way God Designed Our Brains
Our brains were designed by God to live by habits. This adaptation helps us to reserve energy for other aspects of our lives. One study found that 45% of our daily activities are habits.
Without habits, we would experience and decide on what to do anew every day. This would quickly tax our brainpower and willpower. For example, we would have to decide our morning routine, driving routine, and more before work. This would mean that by the time we began work, we would not have as much mental capacity to do our work. Life would be very difficult without habits!
Many thinkers have also believed that habits are the foundation of success. One of the oldest and most famous quotes in this area comes from Aristotle:
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
To progress in any area, we need continuous effort. That is why professional athletes work out or practice nearly every day. Musicians practice regularly. Writers and other creative people work regularly. Habits are much better suited for progress and growth than inconsistent actions.
Habits can be helpful in every area of life, including health, virtue, and vocation.
These five books will help you to discover ways to make and break long-lasting habits.
What is a Habit?
If you want to know more about the exact components of a habit, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is the book for you.
In this book, Duhigg dives into the research behind habit components and formation. He also explains how to create habits for both individuals and organizations.
One key takeaway from this book is an explanation of the three parts of a habit:
- The Cue // This is what triggers your brain to go into habit mode.
- The Routine // This is the actual habit.
- The Reward // This is what makes your brain crave repeating the habit.
Duhigg explains that one of the best ways to make and break habits is to keep the cue and reward, but change the routine.
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What is the Best Way to Create a Habit?
Unsure of how to create a habit? Have you tried traditional ways to create good habits, only to give up? These next books are for you.
There is a lot of debate in the psychological community about many aspects of habit formation. Personally, I do not think there is one correct way to create habits. I think that each of us has a way to create habits best suited to our personalities and circumstances. These books offer lots of options.
Atomic Habits by James Clear was published in 2018 and millions of copies have been sold. The main focus of this book is the creation of systems and relying on those instead of goals to make things happen. These systems should be made up of small habits that push you towards becoming the person you want to be.
Another helpful takeaway from this book is the Four Laws of Behavior Change. This includes making it:
- and satisfying to complete the new habit.
This book is helpful for those who struggle with goal-setting or habit formation. This is also the best book on the list for breaking bad habits.
Mini Habits book was published by Stephen Guise in 2013 and quickly became a bestseller on Amazon.
This book was inspired by Guise’s famous one-push-up challenge. After struggling to make exercise a habit, he decided he would only force himself to do one push-up. He would not make himself do anything else after that. He found that making the bar so low motivated him to do more. He then began using this technique in all aspects of life.
A mini habit is too small to fail and only doing this small thing counts as a “win” for the day. Guise has found that this motivates people to do more, and tricks them into forming larger habits. For example, having to only write 50 words a day has motivated Guise to write 1000 words most days.
This book is helpful for those who struggle with summoning the motivation to do more. It is also helpful for those who need easy wins after failing to create good habits.
This book is the sequel to Mini Habits. Guise found that he struggled with having no set way to measure the extras he did after mini habits. He then created elastic habits and found them to be even more successful.
Elastic habits have three levels: mini, plus, and elite, and can have many options in one level. The key here is that even only doing the mini level counts as a win for the day. But if you want to, your extras are measurable as a plus or elite win. I have found this strategy even better than mini habits because it challenges me to do more without worrying about failing.
This book will be helpful for those who like the idea of mini habits, but who thrive on more structure. But, I highly recommend reading Mini Habits first!
How Do I Fit in a New Routine?
You may want to create a whole new routine and may be wondering how to fit that into your already busy schedule. The Miracle Morning has an answer for you (but don’t skip this part if you are not a morning person!)
This book was published in 2012 by Hal Elrod and has been translated into 37 languages since. The Miracle Morning is made up of the best practices we need to thrive, like exercising and reading. It then allows you to fit in those activities before starting your day. While some of these elements may not be for you, the whole idea of The Miracle Morning is still very helpful. Elrod also includes some very helpful tips for becoming a morning person.
Lean Into How You Were Created
Habits are a great way to use the brains designed by God to create ways to thrive in all areas of life, as He wants us to. I pray that these books will be helpful to you in discovering ways to have life to the full.
Do you have any other suggestions? Have you had success with any other habit-building strategies?
Abby Albrinck is a graduate student in clinical psychology. She also writes about health, virtue, and vocation. In her free time, she enjoys crocheting, reading, and playing music at Mass. You can find out more about her here.