I ran across this question recently and it immediately got my imagination going: What are 10 (or fewer) good habits for a person that can make life better? The habit thing seemed constrictive, but the more general question of 10 ways to make your life better kept piquing my imagination, so I decided to try and give it a shot. Here’s what I came up with. What would yours be?
01 Don’t Manage Outcomes: Most of life is unmanageable. Most of the situations we care about are beyond our control. So much anxiety and emotional pain is connected to the attempt to steer relationships and situational circumstances. Give up the effort to engineer or manipulate the outcomes. Focus instead on healthy rhythms, habits, and practices. How you get there is where you are going. How you spend your day is how you spend your life.
02 Work: Find good work to do with your hands. Try to work toward a career that stimulates your imagination, uses your gifts, and contributes to the world in a way that matters to you, but know that it takes time to get to that. For now, find a job, and work hard at whatever you are doing today. The crappiest jobs teach the most wonderful lessons. Always do your best work.
03 Rest: Make sleep a priority, usually this means early to bed. Take a Sabbath day every single week — one day a week to stop being productive and anxious, and to delight and connect with God and other people — and protect it as though your life depends upon it, because it does.
04 Pray: Don’t just pray when you feel like it. Set times during the day when you will stop and pray (fixed hour prayer). Don’t just make up your prayers on the spot. First learn to pray the words that others have prayed down through the centuries (See the Daily Office, or Psalms), then you will know how to pray.
05 Church: Join a church you can’t control and learn to submit to others who are not like you. Don’t choose a church that meets all of your needs, that would be terrible for you as a person. Join a diverse community, not an affinity group. Find a faith tradition you can believe in and submit to it for the long haul — something with ancient roots, something bigger than yourself. Once you are in, don’t re-evaluate for a decade. Just submit to it and see what God has to teach you. Church is where our character takes shape. Nothing is more important than the weekly worship, service, and connection of church.
06 Rhythms: Focus on healthy rhythms, habits, and practices for your life. Think through your day, week, month, quarter, year, and define the rhythms and practices you need in order to be healthy. Think through the virtues you think are important — faith, hope, love will work; Or love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — and structure your time around the development of those things. Rhythms, habits, and practices are, along with church, the things that will shape your character more than any other thing.
07 Learn: Reading is essential to your life. Listening is an underrated skill. Healthy people never stop learning, changing, and growing. Make a book your default setting for downtime, not your phone, computer, or tv. Make listening a higher priority than talking. Ask good questions. Develop an appetite for other people’s stories. Curiosity is your friend. You can resolve to be a life-long learner and then pursue life with that mindset.
08 Serve: Make giving of yourself to those who live on the margins of culture a priority. Schedule this into every single week. Share what you have with others. Live simply enough that you have the margin to serve and share. Serve in a way that doesn’t draw a lot of attention to yourself. Look for those people who everyone else has kicked to the curb, made invisible, or otherwise marginalized or dismissed and engage with them.
09 Solitude/Retreat: Get away by yourself for a day or two every few months, or at least once a year. Unplug from technology and spend some time reconnecting with yourself and with God. Take very little with you and leave as much of your plan open as you can stand.
10 Exercise: Keeping your body healthy is an essential practice. Eat right, exercise, and remember how to play. Make play a permanent part of your life… not winning, or serious competition so much as just play and enjoyment with others.