About Me, budgeting, self care, social media

Habits, virtue, and making it easy to be good

April 11, 2018

I almost worked “self discipline” into this title, but to be perfectly frank, habit is getting me much further than self discipline during this particular season of life.

I’m at the point in fluffy not-quite-middle-age where if something is going to happen that is good for me, be it spiritual or physical in nature, I nearly always have to trick myself into doing it.

I could fib and say this is only because my domestic obligations are at an all-time high or that I’m suffering from that familiar fourth-trimester sleep deprivation, but the more accurate explanation is that I’m lazy.

How can a mom with five kids and a job be lazy? Oh, it’s pretty easy, actually. It looks like sending my older kids to fetch diapers while I sit plopped on the couch scrolling through my phone. It looks like falling asleep in bed while reading because I am “too tired” to pray. It looks like making a bad food choice at lunch and then mentally shrugging at 4 p.m. when confronted with leftover chocolate chip granola bars from the carnage of after school snack time and telling myself “I’ll start over with good food choices tomorrow” before popping the detritus in my mouth.

Since I lack sorely in self discipline and rightly-ordered passions, I’ve noticed that if I make the good things I’m trying to accomplish sort of idiot-proof, I’ve a much higher incidence of success.

So, for example, during Lent I got into the habit of putting a cute decorative tote basket in front of my place at the dining room table each night which contained my prayer materials: Bible, copy of the catechism, Blessed is She planner, and the Take Up and Read Lenten journal. Because it was there in my face as soon as I came downstairs to sit with my coffee, I dug in and had a little prayer time most mornings, however sparse it might end up being per my darlings’ demands. On the mornings when I’d forgotten to move the basket from it’s daytime perch in the bay window? Nada. I would sit 5 feet away sipping my morning cappuccino and stare at that sucker and prayer time would.not.happen.

Another example. I’m dehydrated more often than not from a strict regimen of breastfeeding, coffee guzzling, kid wrangling, and a strange aversion to filling simple glasses of water to drink from. Some days I would get to dinner time with a pounding headache and realize that I had maybe – maybe – consumed 12 ounces of water all day in the form of a single can of LaCroix. As POTUS would tweet, SAD! Very Disappointing!

I picked up a $4 glass water bottle with a sippy top at Marshall’s last month and started carrying it around the house with me and, what do you know, I’m drinking close to 100 ounces of H2O these days. Sad, right? But also really effective.

I’ve started to do the same thing with exercise. Feeling a little burnt out on my walking routine without Starbucks dangling at the end of the route like a luxurious carrot (more on that later) I was finding my strolls around the neighborhood a little less enticing. I did the math on what I was saving in burnt cups of coffee in a month and reckoned that I could probably afford a basic gym membership to the club down the street if I were completely coffee-shop abstinent. (My entire “fun” category every month is spent on takeout coffee. Speaking of sad…)

So I dug out an old black speedo from a few summers back, tossed a swim cap and a pair of goggles into my purse, and took the plunge, literally. I logged close to 200 laps last week, all because I’ve arranged the necessary materials and started forcing myself to leave the house precisely at 7 p.m. on the nights when it works for our schedule, promising Dave and myself to be back in 60 minutes. It gives me enough time to get the babies to bed and leaves him with some quality time with the older set at the end of the day.

Habit builds on habit. And I’d venture further, saying that virtue builds on habit. When I’m already being good, it’s easier to continue being good.

When I have that big glass of wine on a school night (biiiiig mistake at age 35) I know that the next morning it’s going to be harder to get up to pray. And that if I don’t get up to pray, I’ll probably yell at my kids at some point during the day. And that we’ll be so burnt out on each other’s company from all that yelling that by 4 p.m. that I’ll succumb to the Netflix sirens and surrender my laptop while I cook dinner, feeling hassled and defeated.

I remember hearing Fr. Michael Scanlan, the spiritual powerhouse behind the revitalization of Franciscan University, tell parents during an orientation video that Steubenville was intended to be a place where it was “easy to be good.” By that he meant not that we would be so constrained by rules and regulations that we would have no choice but to behave, but that there would be so many options for choosing the good – and so much positive peer pressure to do so – that it would become a real hotbed of virtue and excellence simply because the true, good, and beautiful was readily available. 24 hour adoration? Check. Three or four daily Mass options a day? Check. Intramural and community building activities through Households and dozens of ministry opportunities? Check.

So yeah, you could show up there a hardened party girl and stay that way, no problem, (Lee’s Place or Jaggin’ Around, anyone?) but you could also throw yourself headlong into the transformative atmosphere of excellence that permeated the campus, and ease into a routine of virtue that was considerably less challenging than the previous four years I’d spent stumbling drunkenly through the more typical college experience at a major public school.

So I’m trying to create a vice-proof, virtue and habit supportive environment in my own home where I am the boss, after all, making it more foolproof for me to misbehave, and less likely to fall headlong into a bag of Doritos* and a late-night Instagram binge session. (Note: Doritos are on the ever-expanding list of things I’ve come to realize that I just can’t have in the house.)

A couple other hacks I’m employing as training wheels right now as we transition from newborn survival mode to new normal:

  • No alcohol on weeknights (unless it’s a major feast day or a date night)
  • 3 non-negotiable exercise sessions a week. Doesn’t matter how long they take or what I do, just that I do them.
  • Instagram only on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings. (I uninstall the app from my phone and reinstall it on those days. Sad? You betcha. Effective? Indeed.)
  • No Facebook or Twitter at all. Just posting content there as I create it and then walking away, so to speak.
  • No shopping at Target or Costco, for the moment. (Diapers and wipes from Amazon, because I am not tempted to overspend when I shop online, whereas walking into brick and mortar is like entering the lion’s den for my budget.)
  • Grocery shopping only on Fridays. Y’all, this one has been HARD. But it’s helping our budget so much. I think I probably saved almost $200 last month from cutting out all the “just one quick thing” trips that always, always result in at least $40 of “oh, yeahs!”

I feel like my thirties have seen me get super into self-knowledge and understanding temperament and personality type (INTJ and choleric/melancholic, for what it’s worth) in an attempt to reprogram the direction of my own life. I guess I’ve been waiting for years and years to just magically “change” or grow out of ___, when actually I’m pretty much the same person I was at 18. I haven’t become more naturally disciplined to go to bed earlier, or less interested in french fries, or more eager to make phone calls I’m dreading. So instead of waiting for me to change, I guess I’m focusing more on “acting as if,” hoping that my tired old self will come plodding along down the path of least resistance I’m working to create. Hey, it works with my kids and a 4 p.m. veggie platter deployed against the whining “I’m huuuuungries” that interrupt dinner prep!

What habit-building hacks have you employed that have made noticeable improvements in your life? Is there an area you thought you’d never see improvement where you’ve been surprised by growth – and grace?

19 Comments

  • Reply Drusilla Barron April 11, 2018 at 9:53 pm

    At some point, after years of trying to force myself to become a different person and failing (and my attempts began when I was 6 years old), I came to see that the trick wasn’t to change myself but to learn to live with myself. So I began bribing myself to do hateful chores: no cheesecake until the recycling is at the curb, or, no reading that book until the laundry is put away. I realized fabric or a book or some other “need” would always make me forget to pay bills so paying bills must happen before I allowed myself to see such temptations even if I wasted money on a cashiers cheque. No matter what I do, I’ll be a four year-old who needs all sorts of things but I can also be an adult and distract myself towards the good. And though I still forget something important from time to time, I’m much better at doing the things that I’m responsible to do. And life is just so much more peaceful now that I’ve stopped trying to remake myself.

    I don’t think you’re sad. I think you’re wise.

  • Reply Rachael April 11, 2018 at 10:35 pm

    Since you like online shopping (and don’t overspend!) you should try ordering groceries online. Kroger has this service locally to me. I save even more money. And you can still use coupons and ibotta.

  • Reply Nancy Schaub April 11, 2018 at 10:40 pm

    I love your blog. So honest. My children are grown and i do not get out much due to medical issues but what keeps me focused is the Divine Mercy Chaplet on EWTN daily at 3. There is a weekday version (soon to be updated, but by the same people from what I heard) and a weekend one a little more contemporary. It amounts to about 22 minutes of my life, a pittance for all the Lord has given me. I realize it might be hard for you to commit to the 3-4 PM period as ideal for saying it, but somehow. I think the Lord understands the demands on a Mom. It brings me a peace other Catholic friends cannot understand but one is happy enough for me that she re-enrolls me at the Shrine annually so I can benefit from the Masses and prayers. I don’t know who did it – no one will own up – but I am grateful. The singing is beautiful and the shots around the Chapel are magnificent. There are a few close-ups of Jesus that are so beautiful I could cry, knowing that He loves me and wants the beat for me. My life is very different since I began to live with chronic pain and other things that came later and are more ominous, but those 20 minutes a day keep me going, juat my time with my Lord and Savior. I hope that if you get a chance to try it, that it will bring you peace also. I remember having small children and how stressful it could be and came to know I could not do it withou Christ and Our Lady. Through all the pain, my faith just grows to accommodate it. I am blessed. So are you with your beautiful family. May God bless and keep you well.

    • Reply Bettie April 13, 2018 at 1:53 pm

      Divine Mercy is just so beautiful! I love it too. I’m “older” too & my children are also grown but I try to pray Divine Mercy for them when I can which is usually at 4 am when I first get up in the morning. My husband & I married in the church in 2008. Both had been divorced, both went thru an annulment, so before our wedding ceremony began we prayed Divine Mercy with all our family & friends around us. Some didn’t understand but we knew that it was only thru His Mercy that we were given a 2nd chance at love & marriage. So keep praying it & I will pray for you that the Lord ease your pain at least a little every day. God Bless you!

  • Reply Kris April 12, 2018 at 5:34 am

    I love some of these ideas! I’m trying to implement the 3-day a week exercise and failing miserably so far. Any tips for really being on top of that? Everything seems to take priority (especially work!). I’ve stopped going to Target for the most part also – I think I’ve been once in the past 4 months because someone needed underwear. Costco once a month only. Love the weekly grocery shopping day idea – I’m going to employ that.

  • Reply Colleen Martin April 12, 2018 at 6:22 am

    I definitely bribe myself to get a task accomplished before I do or eat something fun! Haha, we are all like little kids, aren’t we? If I want something new, I have to work at it by giving up an expense somewhere else or making the extra money for it somehow. For example, we have had a housecleaner come a few times because my husband picked up an after school security job to pay for it. As for exercise, I just look at it as my ME TIME/DOWN TIME/TREATYOSELF TIME whatever you want to call it to make you realize it’s absolutely a necessary mental and physical GIFT to yourself (and everyone around you!). Now if only I could give up chocolate!!!!!!!!!!

  • Reply Karyn April 12, 2018 at 6:55 am

    I do have a problem with online shopping — especially with adding books to orders. So. many. books! So I had my husband change the password to Amazon and I just send him my shopping list as needed. Same for facebook. He somehow can block it to our router so I have him disable it and only go on once or twice a week. I’m like you and find that I just do better with having no access versus trying to be moderate. I also find that planning ahead as much as possible makes things more likely to happen (as a fellow INTJ, I’m sure you get it!). Sometimes dinner happens just because my planner tells me to make chicken or our homeschool keeps going because all of the assignments are written out (and I love to cross off lists).

  • Reply Meg April 12, 2018 at 7:17 am

    I bribe myself too.

    Wanted to get back into excercise postpartum so I told myself if I could complete the Couch to 5k app I could buy new running sneakers (for the first time in 8ish years, ha!) and i wanted to exercise at least 3x per week and I’ve stuck to it for almost a whole year. this is something I have never been able to do in my life. Truly miraculous.

    No social media or “enjoyment” reading if I haven’t prayed/read my Bible

    Meal planning and grocery shopping ONLY every two weeks. My husband buys the stuff I forget on his way home from work because he is not an impulse shopper. *Also, I’ve started making one meal to freeze every two weeks so that on a night when I just.can’t.cook I can pull a healthy homemade meal from the freezer!

    I’m a huge reader (usually 6-8 books per month, mostly novels & memoirs) so I’ve started to incorporate spiritual books into my queue. Imagine that!

    Now to work on healthier eating and less alcohol consumption. It’s so hard because I too have an addictive personality (it’s either abstinence or everything) and i have really difficult pregnancies where I can’t eat much of anything so when I’m not pregnant I just want to have whatever I want!

  • Reply Rosie April 12, 2018 at 8:06 am

    YES to the bribery of self, I’m absolutely a child and that works so well for me! Also we pretty much only shop at Aldi, which I don’t love but is SO MUCH CHEAPER than the alternative. I send my husband most of the time to cut down on impulse buys, and we do a big Costco run 1-2 times/month but we’re all together, so impulse buys are rare because my husband’s raised eyebrow when I throw that bag of delicious chocolate caramel pretzel bites is enough to deter me 😉

    Also: putting my phone upstairs to charge helps me stay off it because I’m too lazy to walk all the way upstairs to get it…

  • Reply Dee April 12, 2018 at 8:34 am

    Hi Jenny! Want to start off by saying thanks for your blog. It is my favorite by far! Our stories are very similar (college, life now… ha!) and I enjoy your advice and posts immensely.

    That being said.. any advice for a lady who is not/will never be a morning person? 34yrs old and the struggle is most definitely REAL. Getting the older two to Prek by 8:15 is work! (Kids are 4.5, 3.5 and 1.5) I try to go to bed early but most nights it doesn’t happen as it is the only time my husband and I can relax (he works late) I do work Part time outside of the home as an RN and, by some miraculous intervention, get out of the bed at 5:30 on those days. Can’t really do the “get up before the kids” thing… our house is smallish (1950’s Cape) and the perking of the coffee would wake up the whole house. Am looking into a gym (it’s been 5+ years!) and might try that?? Help! 🙂

    To tie in with your post, I brought this up at my last confession … not the sleeping in, more the staying up and watching TV instead of tidying the toys, etc… feeling lazy… The priest looked me in the eyes and said “You are exhausted! And need a break! It’s not an excuse, it’s exhaustion!” I lol’d to myself thinking how rough I must look at Mass. But anyway, he is right. He also said that we were an “inspiration” (what the?!) for even bringing young kids to Mass. Our parish doesn’t typically have a youngish crowd , so we stand out. The takeaway from all of that- give yourself some credit ladies. We do A LOT! Even if it doesn’t seem like it.

    OK, realized I probably answered my own question with my ramblings. 7:34am doesn’t feel too guilty after all 🙂 Thanks again Jenny. You rock!

  • Reply Karen April 12, 2018 at 10:00 am

    For me, it’s accountability that I need. Being a SAHM, homeschooling mom, there’s not a lot of accountability for exercise and intellectual pursuits. My kids are not generally going to get on me to exercise. So we made it a family thing. Three times a week we head to the gym that is free for us at my husband’s work. We reserve a racquetball court and the kids practice tennis with DH while I run on the inside track. Then I join them for some dodgeball and keepaway, and then we get them up there for their run. This accomplishes several things: we’re doing PE for homeschool, the kids are getting much-needed exercise with structure, and I’ve managed to regain a lot of the fitness I lost during a very stressful time we had recently. I mean, once I make the effort of packing the kids in the car and driving to the base, it seems silly to *not* get my run in. On days we don’t go to the gym, I do calisthenics with the kids–I write it on our daily white board list for school, which makes me accountable.

    I was also getting bad with the hydration; I started filling up a plastic 20 ounce bottle at night and putting it on my nightstand; the first thing I do in the morning, before coffee, is guzzle that down. Also, any cup of coffee I have during the day is followed by another 20 ounce bottle of water.

    Budgeting: I was not being smart with my errands, trying to squeeze in a grocery run on days we were heading to the gym by going to the grocery store early, then coming home, unloading, and then whoosh, back in the car kids, time for gym! We were driving too much and wasting gas. Now I batch our errands on gym days–if we need to hit the library, we do that after the gym, and use the grocery store that’s near the library. Same with Trader Joes. Also trying to get down to one big grocery run a week, if possible. My gas tank is staying full longer and the kids are happier, since our mornings have more time now for breakfast and school and general waking up.

    So it turns out that our gym time has become kind of our scheduling center–on days we don’t go to the gym, I stay home and get housecleaning stuff done, which is great. For me having “out days” and “in days” is key for making sure I stay focused.

  • Reply Kathleen April 12, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Oh Jenny! Recently had a bunch of bloodwork and one thing that came back was that I am really dehydrated! Lacroix, coffee and wine apparently not hydrating this breastfeeding mama! Love that water bottle idea! This post is inspiring! Your baby is younger than mine so I should get it together!!!! I used to be hardcore about exercise.. It’s been so tough. The only thing I’ve managed to stick to is 6 am prayer not matter what. Hoping to add more and these are great practical suggestions!

  • Reply Ellen April 12, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    This lent I realized finally that trying to grow virtue in myself by gritting my teeth and just trying harder actually does not work at all. Our Wills certainly can accomplish a lot but in terms of gaining virtue that is grace and cooperation with Grace. I think your tricks for yourself are very smart. These are the kinds of things we do with our children and doesn’t God look on us as his children.

  • Reply Diana April 12, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    Oh I so needed this as we work through setting up new routines and habits with a new (surprise! adopted) baby. Nice to know we aren’t the only ones!

  • Reply Cynthia S Coy April 12, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    I love this post, it’s good to see what others are trying. I started doing the one load of laundry a day, something you mentioned in a previous post and it is working so well. Thank you for sharing that one!

    To add to the workout stuff, I believe you’ve tried THM before. I am a THM-for life gal and was introduced to the benefits of an indoor trampoline for both me and the kids. So, I workout with them at home now. I try to get up in the morning, but that usually doesn’t happen and instead I rebound with my kids with Just Dance songs on youtube in the background. I also got the bodyboss workout book and break up the sets through out the day, sometimes the kids join in and try to copy me. THM has a “workins” version that I believe is similar. It’s fun and I don’t feel so much pressure to get a 30 minute block in.

    Many blessings!!!

  • Reply Melissa April 12, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    At the inspiration of a friend in January I started a “read the whole bible and catechism in a year plan.” So far I am right on track, and I have never in my life read my bible everyday until now. I’m hoping once the year is over I will be more in the habit/motivated to spend more time on specific passages and really dive in deeper, but for now I’m pretty sure God is happy with and blessing my efforts to even pick up my bible at all. I’ve been recommending it to people because it has already been such a blessing. Also, I am always dehydrated, and I never remember to carry a water bottle around but for whatever strange reason, drinking out of a big glass jar (?!) is what works for me. You just never know haha

  • Reply Cynthia S Coy April 13, 2018 at 9:17 am

    Also, I have found praying the Chaplet of St. Michael has helped me a lot. Praise God!

  • Reply Andi April 13, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    HI, I’ve been reading your blog for years (like maybe back when you had two kids and lived in Italy?) but have never commented. I have so enjoyed your humor and honesty. Thank you for sharing your joys and struggles with all of us!! I’m a mom of 4 in my late 30’s and have gotten to a place where I am recognizing and taking responsibility for my own spiritual/physical/emotional health..finally. God is truly my Gentle Shepherd; He’s so patient and I am such a sheep/goat – depending on the day.
    This past Lent was really amazing and I wanted to continue with that closeness to God and joy I experienced. So I decided to take the advice of many commenters on the Best Lent Ever and begin giving God the first few minutes of my day, even though I have failed to do this in the past. I picked up a free booklet from my parish that has a short daily devotion to go with the Mass readings. Probably TMI but I put this in my bathroom so that first thing in the morning I will see it and pick it up! It has helped me to spend some time each morning, even if it’s just 5 minutes. I can’t believe how much it helps during the day. Taking time for prayer and Scripture readings the first thing in the morning has always been such a struggle, but keeping it simple helps me to continue. So I totally get fooling yourself into good habits! I may use your grocery shopping only on one day a week idea! That would be huge for me. God bless!

  • Reply jeanette April 20, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    Self-discipline is a bit of a misnomer…we really aren’t that good at it on our own, as you point out so well. A lot of comments here mention various ways of training oneself to do something, and a lot of comments talk about prayer life commitments as well. I wanted to point to a help that I always have recourse to in the process: God’s help. I never try to discipline myself to change my ways without first asking for the grace to change. Then I will be supplied with the help I need, rather than strictly relying upon self. The outcome is visibly different, and rather than feeling pride that I was able to overcome something, I feel a great amount of gratitude for the help I received and a real knowledge that I didn’t do it myself. It also teaches me to ask with faith for the things that I truly need in life, to help me carry out the things that I know will be pleasing to God whom I love and want to conform my life to. It is something one does deliberately, not just in a vague way. If I do these things to change myself out of love for God, it also helps me persevere in my failures. Because I am not merely failing to carry out a personal goal (which inclines one to give up), I am striving to give something to God and so I become less discouraged by my failures along the way, as my mind is more occupied with showing my love to Him by my efforts, and I know He is patient with me.

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