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Reframing Habits

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

I did not grow up doing Lenten practices. I really don’t know why these practices were not something that was emphasized in my childhood church. Maybe it was because I grew up in Slovakia (former Czechoslovakia) in an old traditional brethren church, which descended directly from Jan Hus and his religious movement from the 16th century. Maybe it was because I also grew up under communism when the church was oppressed, or maybe it was because I was too young at that time and didn’t pay much attention.

I only heard about how you are supposed to give something up for Lent when I came to the United States. “How unusual,” I thought! Why would you want to give something up? What is the reason for this strange tradition? The best answer I could find is that it has to do with self-control as we remember that Jesus fasted for 40 days and think about what He has done for us on the cross.

Last week, as a way of preparing our hearts and minds for Lent, Maryanne challenged us to think about what habits we have developed, how they serve us, and what habits we would like to develop.

Lent is a natural time to put new habits into place. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, mentions that during the year, we have a few special days or dates to mark transitions. These dates include the New Year, Lent, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. and serve as a natural time to start new habits.

I don’t know about you, but the word “habit” doesn’t always sit well with me. By its definition–as something that we do on a continuous basis in a repeated way, it is not what I look forward to doing. Sometimes “new habits” sound daunting, impossible and like an endless commitment to something I may or may not enjoy doing.

But here is the thing about habits—we need them, we thrive on them, and they are a part of our lives whether we recognize it or not. Let’s also be honest–getting new habits in place is hard work. According to James Clear, you have to commit to something for at least 66 days, more than 2 months, for the habit to take root and become a part of your life.

If the idea of starting and keeping a new habit is making you feel overwhelmed, here is something that can help: a bit of language reframing.

First, reframe the word “habit” to “practice.” What new practice do you want to develop? sounds a little less daunting to me than What new habit you want to start? Practicing is a process of dealing with many ups and downs, so when those come, you will not become discouraged and will keep going a lot easier.

Another language reframe you can try is a suggestion from James Clear: every time you want to start a new habit, ask yourself “What kind of person do I want to be?” So rather than thinking: “I am going to exercise regularly,” reframe this sentence to: “I am the kind of person who exercises regularly.” How different does that make you feel and think about yourself and what you do? This change of language will allow you to see yourself as someone who already is the person you want to be. It will also allow you to start behaving as if you already are the person you want to become. Even if you forget or fail to practice what you set out to do, it won’t discourage you. You will try again and do better next time. Because that’s the kind of person you are!

What helps you with creating new habits?

Have you tried reframing the language around habits?

What helps you to stick with a new habit or practice?

What advice would you give someone who is struggling with creating new practices?

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