“Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
– Francis of Assisi
The last bulb in my studio burnt out three days ago and I’ve yet to find the time to replace it. The inconvenience caused more of a problem than it might have 6 weeks ago, because I’ve since rededicated to my daily writing routine. I mean to write more this year than I did last year; in the same way that last year I wrote more than the year before. With the occurrence of this bulbless-dilemma, I could skip tonight’s writing session and let myself fall for the temptation of weighing ease as a higher priority than obliging my writing goals, but I’m teaching myself to do better than that. I’ve been learning that the commitment one has towards their aspirations should not only be held in repetition, but this commitment should have a compounding consistency to it as one grows. This means less excuses, and more time with a notebook and pencil in hand. So tonight, I write by candlelight.
I’ve long heard it said that we are creatures of habit. We find routines or they find us, we take on habits through intentionally or they form themselves without our conscious consent. This natural disposition to repeat ourselves in daily duties holds opportunity for us to make each day remarkably prolific. The fruition of this outcome, from what I’ve gathered, is contingent upon our ability to prioritize. But then, the process of prioritization only comes by the preliminary task of valuation.
Valuation is the process of determining our Why. Once we’ve set measurable goals, we then give ourselves a clear reason for continually investing in them. To go with my favorite example: Writing is something I have enjoyed most of my life, and to create a career of this pleasure has been an aspiration of mine almost as long as I’ve realized how greatly I enjoy it. Other values, of course, can be much simpler than that of accomplishing one’s career dreams; these simpler factors are less weighty but can invoke a comparable effort towards implementing a new routine. For me, these include reminders of how I know writing makes me feel. While I would not let my personal process of valuation be limited to mere feelings as to save myself from only acting upon my goal as sporadically as when I feel inspired to do so, I’ve learned not to discount the significance of my feelings, either. I appreciate how I know writing will make me feel, and therefore I hold that understanding in partnership with those examples that some might call my ‘higher values’ – like turning a hobby into a career. But our greatest practicalities as well as our deepest rushes of satisfaction can each play vital roles in fueling a steady routine, so I’ll stick to giving value to both.
When goals take on a substance of priority through our valuation, this can employ us to act on them with consistency. This consistency, once developed, has a way of rising above the influence of distraction insomuch as the very combination of repetition with value produces momentum for us to not sell ourselves short when cheap opportunities to give up present themselves. The more tactfully we can prioritize how we spend our days, the more we show our appreciation for the time that we have. This strategy of daily practice becomes our deliberate act of investment in the specific areas that we would like to grow.
Most of us have high ideals at the start of a new year, but I’ve come to notice that very few of us actually set these goals with any sense of urgency. Instead, we speak of the New Year as if this year will end in some near-suddenness, but in reality, the end of the year is so far off from the determining day of our goals that we might as well say our deadline is four minutes past infinity. Urgency is necessary to create real movement – especially if that movement is something we wish to take on long-term. We need some person or some time period who will keep us accountable and not let us drift off course under the impression that ‘there’s always tomorrow’. Because without accountability, whether to a time or person, tomorrow seldom finds today. This is not to say that New Year resolutions are insignificant, but rather, that we should use the start of new seasons as an opportunity to begin habits with foreseeable deadlines.
Now, I promise that with the above hint that I made at procrastination that this article is not late. I understand that we’re already days into March and that the season surrounding the new year ended two months ago, but rather than writing an essay to inspire the development of New Year’s resolutions, I wrote this as a means of checking in on those resolutions we all set with such high ambition so short a time ago. And for those of us who’ve invested in these habits, I’ve written this as a call to examine where our new routines have affected us. It is time to weigh whether our habits grow or depreciate our health, joy, community, and perspective.
With a flame illuminating my notebook it’s hard to avoid implementing a metaphor (fire is somehow always a relevant image). I remember a cold night under the stars in Guatemala when my friend Joey and I were scrambling in and out of the woods most of the evening to keep our fire alive so we could stay warm. Had we been less tired and able to think more clearly, we might have taken shifts between sleeping and tending to the fire, but instead, the single forty-five minute span that each of us found to sleep was at the same time and inevitably ended as suddenly as our flame died out. Just as abruptly as we’d woken up, the cold threw Joey and I back on our feet and into the woods for more firewood. It almost goes without saying that when the two of us were engaged in keeping the fire alive, this prioritization towards the flame did us a worthwhile good, but then, when we became disengaged we were quickly forced back into our shivering state.
The man spending a night outside in the cold who falls asleep by his fire may, like Joey and I, wake to the freezing temperatures that demand he find more wood. On the other-hand, the same stargazer may wake to roaring flames as they’ve escaped his fire pit to catch a tree with little more than a subtle help from the wind. Fire left unattended – or un-prioritized, if you will – can be destructive in both scenarios. Joey and I surely felt the violent rush of cold that came of our inattentiveness, and I believe the same can be experienced when speaking through the context of our habits. We’ve all seen how quickly habits of unhealthy eating can shape how we feel or how much energy we carry, or how easily laziness produces more laziness once we’ve slipped into a habit of being lazy. And to go so far as to call such circumstances destructive would not be unreasonable. A life of good-intentions without intentional habits can depreciate until goals are forgotten, or they can move untamed as we lose day after day to habits that form lifeless complacency within us because we don’t take the time to set our habits for ourselves; so they determine themselves like a flame spread by the wind.
Habits enable us to implement good practice, exercise, and learning into our lives. This is becoming the lead tool for many of my aspirations, as well as an inspiring reminder to remain simple by knowing what is important to me. This prioritization towards good routines increasingly fosters a life that does not feel merely ‘taken by the wind’, and consistently amazes me for the power I see my initiative create – even if that initiative seems as silly or subtle as fetching a lighter and candle when my studio-apartment’s bulb burns out and I’m left in the dark. In the same way that a flame might cause violence when it is not kept, the same heat, when prioritized, can be a scene of romance, a tool for discovery, or a light to keep a young writer in his diligence.