Tiny Habits and Spiritual Practice
“Pray without ceasing,” says St. Paul; and Quakers are often advised to engage in some personal, daily spiritual practice. But keeping to a daily devotion or meditation is a problem for many of us. As is the case with New Year’s resolutions, we start out strong but soon find ourselves frequently forgetting our spiritual routine, perhaps even falling away from it altogether. It’s hard to establish a new habit, be it physical or spiritual exercise.
B. J. Fogg, in his Tiny Habits book, suggests a way to overcome our inertia. Fogg suggests “hooking” our new spiritual practice to an established habit or routine. For example, I feed my dogs every morning. I’m trying to use the dogs’ breakfast as a cue to perform a spiritual habit. However, following Fogg, I’m also trying to keep my new habit short and “easy.”
I’ve chosen the Lord’s Prayer as my devotional habit. While full of spiritual riches, the Lord’s Prayer is also concise. It can be said, either out loud or mentally, in little more than thirty seconds. The ease of repeating it means that I’m not likely to postpone the recitation. Then—and only then—I may choose to extend the practice by going through the phrases of the prayer in a more leisurely, reflective way. If I feel like it (and I often do), I can listen to a twenty- or thirty-minute meditative audio of the prayer on my phone’s Jesus Words app, but it’s important to keep the basic habit “tiny” in order not to postpone saying the prayer. I don’t want to feel guilty because I don’t pray in the press of daily life.
Hook the new habit/practice to an established habit or routine. Keep the new habit “tiny” and easy, prolonging it only if so inclined at the time. Fogg, for example, hooked his exercise routine to peeing at home. After peeing, he would perform the tiny habit of doing two push-ups. Often, he’d decide to go ahead and do five, ten, even twenty push-ups. But he’d always do at least two to keep his exercise habit going. So, my established habit/routine is feeding the dogs. My tiny habit is the Lord’s Prayer. I may, or may not, extend the Prayer with reflection, meditation, or devotional reading. But the Lord’s Prayer once through is a minimum, designed to keep the habit going.
Of course, the content of the tiny spiritual habit is infinitely variable. Instead of the Lord’s Prayer, you could say something as simple as “Jesus is Lord.” Or, if you’re a Buddhist, you could say, “May all beings be safe, happy, healthy, and live joyously.” The optional extension of the tiny spiritual habit is also variable. For a Christian, it might be a breathing meditation or a reading from the New Testament. For a Buddhist, an extension might be meditation or perhaps reading the Buddha’s own words. The possibilities are endless. And now you’re ready for your New Year’s resolution of doing a spiritual practice every day!
~ Richard Russell
Donald Newman Lathrop
12/30/2021 07:43:19 pm
Nicely done, Richard.
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