Why You Need a Rhythm: Turning New Year's Resolutions Into Lifelong Habits

New year's resolutions are widespread, and I'm always right there on the same boat. But I'm learning that a new resolution or goal alone isn't going to get me where I want to be. You don't need to make more money, be a different size, look prettier, have more things, pare down to less things, or (fill in the blank) to be happier. Instead, something in your fundamental routine has to change. The way you approach life has to change.

I'm not asking you to ditch your resolutions; I'm asking that you tweak them just enough to plug them into your life instead of letting them float on the fringes of it.

I'm not asking you to make resolutions; I'm asking you to identify what's missing from or not working in your life, and get to the heart of the issues that are bothering you.

Let's do this.

Many people claim to be disorganized and bad at routines...bad at consistency. I'm here to tell you why this is not just a personality preference. It's a common weakness we all tend towards - God created order, and over time, things tend toward disorder if not maintained.

God is the author and Creator of rhythms and routines. How have we missed this?

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...And God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.' " (Genesis 1:1, 14-15, emphasis added)

In the beginning, God purposefully created the earth and then ordered it into a rhythm of days, weeks, months, and years. Those weren't our ideas. He did not create you and me randomly or on a whim, and I don't think He created us to do life that way either. Let me reassure you that this idea of routines does not mean that you have to have a militaristic, legalistic, or strict approach. It does not mean that every second of your life is planned. On the contrary, having routines in your life opens up more spaces for free, whimsical living.

The world says that only in chaos and emotional living can there be freedom and happiness. God says that only within healthy boundaries and a foundation of truth can there be freedom and joy (Psalm 119:1-8 and 19:7-11). Which will you believe?

"Rhythms actually free me up to be more spontaneous and live my life," Allie Casazza says, in her post "The Secret for Moms Who Want To Get More Done." (She has a fantastic blog and home business helping others reap the benefits of minimalistic motherhood.)

Kids thrive on this stuff. They are less whiny, cranky, and confused when they have a general idea of what to expect from their day - and from you. Having routines has kept Roxy balanced and secure in a chaotic, confusing time. When the twins were born, everything sort of exploded (obviously) and there was very little that stayed the same. But I did everything possible to keep a few constants in Roxy's routine (the way each morning flowed, mealtimes, and naptimes). It made it easy for my mom and others to jump in and help because I could tell them what we usually do.

During the initial upheaval of going from one kid to three, having a basic routine kept me calm. I knew how I was hoping the babies would fit into the routine. It did not create perfect days. We may make plans and schedules to keep things running smoothly, but we have to keep in mind that ultimately, we are not in control. This is not about forcing yourself and your family to perform for the sake of the routine! It is about making the routine work for you, giving you extra space where needed, and providing boundaries so that there is less guesswork for everyone.

I have a few rhythms in place right now that ensure that every day, no matter how crazy or unpredictable, we are all:
  • eating three mostly healthy meals and two snacks (no skipped mealtimes for me, either)
  • getting outside (for at least 10 minutes)
  • having a chunk of alone time to be quiet/nap
  • wearing something other than pajamas all day (unless it's a Pajama Day, of course)
  • getting in the Word
Ideas for simple rhythms that will open up your day and help you feel always ready for spontaneous fun with your kids:

Dress yourself - This sounds obvious, but as a stay-at-home-mom, it is entirely too easy to slouch around in yoga pants all day, or wear your pajamas till noon. This undeniably affects your attitude and motivation. Try putting on something nice each morning, and if you like to do your makeup, do it on ordinary days - not just for "important" social events. (I started laying my clothes out the night before so that mornings are simpler.)

Do dishes right away - Dishes piled up in the kitchen make me cranky, and I'm willing to bet they have a similar affect on you. So I've made it a habit to wash them as soon as each meal is finished. If a morning is particularly crazy, I at least rinse off the breakfast dishes. And no matter how tired I am, I (almost always) make sure the dishes are all done before bed. Why? Because I want to start the new day feeling ready.

Make personal hygiene habitual - I felt like the kids were always sticky, dirty, and messy, and bathtime seemed like an ordeal I just could not handle. But I LOVE bathtime. I used to look forward to it with Roxy. So I slapped it on the calendar. On Monday and Friday nights, either before or after dinner, all three kids get a bath. At the same time. Now, I literally don't have to think about it. Occasionally, the days get nudged a bit, but they are still getting bathed twice a week.

A Few Notes on Creating Your Own Rhythms

Figure out what you're trying to change in your life and go from there. Get specific. Many people have very broad, open-ended New Year's Resolutions. It leaves them uncertain of how to achieve them, and even if they make progress in the right direction, they stall out because they can't see the progress.

Here are some that I've heard a lot: Workout more. Eat healthier. Lose weight. Read more. Stay organized. Be a better mom.

"More" is not an achievable goal. There's no way to measure it or do it. So let's boil it down a little with some examples.

"Workout more."

If I keep the goal "workout more," I might be successful for a few days...until distractions and tiredness get the better of me, and my energy fizzles out. However, if I plug it in to my actual day, I'm going to get some results.

When I look at my day, it doesn't seem that there is time for me to workout. I either have to get up super early and workout without waking anybody up (sounds awful, doesn't it?) or I have to scoot things around in the routine that already exists. After breakfast, Roxy and I go outside. This is a perfect time for me to incorporate a workout regimen to do while we're outside. Or I can look at how I'm spending my evenings. Are they filled with Netflix, Facebook, etc.? Maybe I could do a twenty-minute yoga session then. It doesn't have to be big; let's just add movement to your day.

It won't be a routine if it doesn't happen. So set an alarm on your phone for this.

"Be a better mom."

Take a second to think about why you need to be a better mom. What is making you feel less-than? Is it a comparison issue, or is there truly something you are not giving your kids? This could be as simple as reading to your kids for 15 minutes a day. This checks off a lot of boxes for your child's learning, attention span, quality time, and ability to relax. And it forces you to only focus on your kid for a few minutes.

Solve your big problems in little ways. You'll be surprised at how much this works.
It's Your Turn

Don't try too much at once. I'd suggest picking one thing that you'd like to turn into a rhythm and work on it for at least a month. You'll know that a habit has "stuck" when you don't have to remind yourself to do it anymore. When crazy happens and it goes left undone, you'll miss it and notice its absence right away.

For instance, there's been several days that going outside just didn't happen. That's when I realized: being outdoors is a habit I'm cultivating because it truly matters. It matters more than getting the house cleaned or making those phone calls. It needs to be a rhythm because I need it. Going outside every day affects more than just your body (look it up - there are studies done on this)!

Have a WHY. The thing is, if you don't have a reason behind your rhythms, a why that's been answered, you won't stick with them. They will never become habits. Don't waste your own time trying to create routines that don't serve you and your family. We will never succeed if we are merely shaping our lives to look like our neighbors'.

Connect a habit with something else you already do. For instance, after lunch, Roxy and I sweep the floor. By connecting a new chore with something that already happens every day without fail (lunch), I cut out the need to remember. It becomes rhythmic quite quickly. Roxy doesn't complain about it because it's just something that happens every single day. Instead of nagging your kids, you help them see a pattern and react accordingly. When you brush your teeth, wipe down the sink, etc.

Reevaluate. At the end of a month (write it on your calendar so you don't forget), reevaluate how that habit helped you. Did you stick with it? What did it change about your life? Is it worth keeping around? Was it good for a season, but now maybe it's time to change?

Pray. God is not hiding from you in all of this. He wants you to follow Him. Surrender all of these things in prayer, stay in His word to gain wisdom, and He will lead you.

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