"Habits change into character." – Ovid

Beginning a couple of years ago, I have tried to start every day the same way. On waking, before I even sit up, I set an intention for myself (be calm, be kind, be productive, be present, be funny, etc.). Then I either meditate on that intention or I pray. The prayer is always the same. I ask for help in meeting my daily intention. I ask for healing for a list of people whom I know are dealing with illness. I ask for continued blessings and protection of all my families. I ask for comfort and blessings on all those whom I know are grieving some loss or another.

I haven’t managed the routine every day — in fact there have been occasional long gaps when other less helpful habits have intruded — but I have done it more days than not. I write it down as “IMP” in my calendar — Intention Meditation/Prayer. Just to be clear, the intention can be as broad as “Get it together,” especially after a disappointing previous day. The meditation is often just talking myself down and away from some rash action or discussion I’m tempted to initiate. The prayer is often abbreviated, and if I’m still tired when I wake up, I’ll forget whole groups of people for whom I wanted to pray. I’m not trying to pass myself off as St. Suzanne here, believe me. This isn’t a post on piety. It’s a post on “habit.”

I find that, after years of trying to maintain some good habits and jettison some bad ones, I am more obsessed with “habits” here in early 2020 than I have ever been. In fact, one of the first books I began reading this year is entitled Atomic Habits by James Clear. I think Mr. Clear would agree with the Ovid quote above, based on what I’ve read. So far, I’ve found the book interesting, helpful, specific, and sane. But in order to employ Mr. Clear’s suggested methods, or anyone else’s for that matter when it comes to changing your life by changing your habits, the key must be mindfulness.

Mindfulness can change your reality. Look, I’m no expert on “being present.” You’ve heard the phrase monkey mind? My mind is the Koko of monkey minds, but I do believe in intention. I’ve never understood the phrase, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” I just don’t believe it. I get that it means your intentions must translate into action, but actions ought to at least start with good intentions. Otherwise, they’re the product of randomness or, worse, thoughtlessness.

Last week, I ran my first half marathon. My daughter asked me almost a year ago if I would run the race with her, and for some reason I still can’t grasp, I said yes. Before this past year, I wouldn’t have considered myself a runner. I have run some 5Ks and I run for exercise, but nothing serious. In training for this half marathon, I was serious, mostly because I was terrified of failure or catastrophic injury, but I was serious and mindful. I employed the habits of a runner for months, and somewhere along the way I became a runner.

Similarly, has my “IMP” habit changed my character from, well, me to some beatific zen-radiant all-mother? Nope. But while I can’t say I’m a person who always starts my day thinking of others, I can say I’m a person who wants to always start her day thinking of others. By employing a couple specific habits with that desire in mind, I bet I get a little bit closer to becoming a person who does always start her day thinking of others. Then I can tackle the habits that will lead me to becoming more helpful to those people.

Intention has always been important to my spirit. One of the things I hate most is to realize that I have unintentionally hurt someone. I’ve done so much of that. I still cringe when thinking of things I have said or done, even as a child, not trying to hurt anyone, but that were hurtful to someone nonetheless. I’m sure I still do it more than I know, and that makes me terribly sad. I struggle to forgive myself for those unintentional wounds I inflict. To be so thoughtless and careless with another person’s feelings truly bothers me. It is ridiculous, I know, that I can forgive myself more easily for intentionally insulting or hurting someone! At least in those instances I have been present and responsible for whatever energy I was sending out into the world.

And that’s the gist of all this, isn’t it? Asking myself, What are you intentionally gifting to the world today? and wondering What are you unintentionally signaling? seems like a good small first step to accomplishing so many things, including establishing some character-building habits.

Who do you want to be?

Thanks for reading.

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