Holy Habit Tip #2: Focus on Systems, Not on Goals.

James Clear says that one of the secrets to building good habits that last is by focusing on systems (the processes that lead to the results we want to achieve) rather than the goals (the results we want to achieve).

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems” (James Clear).

In the spiritual life, we need to concentrate on the systems we have put in place to achieve holiness, that is, being faithful to our spiritual disciplines (daily Mass, regular Confession, daily rosary, daily lectio divina, nightly examination of conscience, etc).

If we get too caught up in the goals (seeing “improvement” in our prayer life via consolation), we will get easily discouraged and will eventually give up the exact means by which God is sanctifying us.

In order to focus on systems well, we must realize that “environment matters more than motivation” (James Clear).

It’s helpful to realize that motivation is overvalued because our motivation in our spiritual lives will often feel like an unpredictable roller coaster. The same is true of natural talent and effort. Although these matter, environment will always tend to come out victorious in the end when determining behaviours.

“Environment is like the invisible hand that shapes your behaviour” (James Clear).

Therefore, we must change our environments to increase our exposures to positive cues and decreases our exposure to negative cues.

“Don’t be the victim of your environment. Be the architect of your environment!” (James Clear)

Here are 3 Catholic examples of how you can make this work in real life.

#1: Have a prayer space.

Create a space that is dedicated to prayer and nothing else (cf. Matthew 6:6). Get some holy images, candles, icons, Bibles, spirituality books, and anything else that can help you make this prayer space special. Make sure this prayer space is devoid of anything that might distract you – turn off your iPhone!

#2: Visit an adoration chapel en route to work.

A great way to visit an adoration chapel more frequently is to drive by it more frequently. In other words, make your new desired habit (going to an adoration chapel) fit into the flow of your current pattern (driving to work). Just dropping by to visit our Lord for 1 minute each day could eventually lead to transformational results.

#3: Get some holy friends.

Since we have a deep desire to belong and fit in, we often imitate the habits of those around us. In order to develop holy habits, we need to have friends who approve and help to reinforce our desired habits. For example, if all of your friends pray a daily holy hour, you will want to pray a daily holy hour too to fit in.

“Join groups where the desired behaviour is the normal behaviour” (James Clear).

“Spiritual friendship is so extremely important for souls not yet fortified in virtue” (St. Teresa of Avila).

Holy friendships “will be excellent because it comes from God, excellent because it leads to God, excellent because its bond will endure eternally in God. How good it is to love here on earth as they love in heaven and to learn to cherish one another in this world as we shall do eternally in the next!” (St. Francis de Sales).

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