What is the #1 mistake in building good habits? Trying to be someone you’re not. Can we learn from someone else’s example? Yes. Can we try new things at another’s recommendation? Of course. Can we cookie-cutter someone else’s habits wholesale into our lives? Bad idea.
In Greek mythology, Procrustes had created what he heralded as a one-size-fits-all solution to a good night’s sleep. This forerunner to every modern snake-oil salesman lured unsuspecting Athenians to Mount Korydallos, where Procrustes would “fit” them to his bed either by cutting off anything hanging off or stretching whatever did not reach the edges of his “perfect” bed. Yes, he tortured and killed people so they would fit into his bed.
What’s the lesson here? Forcing someone to fit an arbitrary standard may cause them irreparable harm.
That’s not doing away with morality. That’s not getting rid of the 10 Commandments. It’s acknowledging that while there are objective norms of right and wrong, there are also individual differences and special circumstances.
Remember Goldilocks and the 3 Bears? Papa Bear’s porridge is too hot for her. Mama’s is too cold for her. Papa Bear’s chair is too hard and Mama’s too soft. Same with their beds. She could only be happy with Baby Bear’s porridge, chair, and bed. But Papa and Mama Bears’ porridge, chair, and bed were “just right” for each of them.
Justice is giving each one his due. If you want to establish good habits, the #1 thing is to be just with yourself and do habits that work for you. Do you dislike drinking water? No problem. You can still hydrate: drink sparkling water, lemon water, juice, tea, smoothies, broth. Eat water-rich foods and soups. Suck on ice cubes. Hate running? Walk. Bike. Dance. Swim. Pietra Fitness. Isn’t the important thing that you move? Our God is a God of abundance and joy! If you want to build a habit, do something you like, that’s also good for you.
On January 28, 2017, Serena Williams defeated her sister Venus for a record 7th Australian Open. She withdrew from her next 2 tournaments citing a knee injury. Then, on April 19, she announced she was 20 weeks pregnant. Do you think her habits changed? Yep. Even more so after she suffered two pulmonary embolisms connected to her pregnancy and was bed-ridden for 6 weeks. Nobody in their right mind would expect her to keep up her daily training regimen… but do we give this much grace to ourselves?
You were on vacation and missed your workouts. So what? You were on vacation and you can get back to it when you get home. Your kid was sick, you didn't sleep, and you missed your morning prayer group. Life goes on. You did what you were supposed to do. You lived your vocation. Don't beat yourself up.
That’s not a pass for failing to do your habits because you “didn’t feel like it.” Justice is a “firm will to do the good.” If you want to build a habit, you will have to push through feelings sometimes. You can do that and give yourself grace.
God has made you unique, special, different. He has not called you to a cookie-cutter existence. He has called you by name to a unique vocation personally tailored to you. Try new things, but don’t pigeon-hole yourself into following someone else’s to-do list. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your spiritual director or someone who knows you well so that you can discern habits that make sense for you. Be you, because if you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world on fire.
What do you think of when you hear the words “Rest,” “Leisure,” or “Self-care”? Do you think about sitting on the couch in your pjs scrolling on your phone or binge watching a season (or three) of your favorite show?
If so, keep reading because you’ll seriously want to rethink that.
Our culture which applauds productivity and the “hustle” has warped the holy idea of rest.
Instead of recognizing rest as a vital component for living a thriving human life, we tend to see it as a chance to turn off and recharge like machines so we can get back to work.
However, our ability to work and produce does not dictate our worth. Instead, we know that our value stems from our identities as sons and daughters of God, and our rest should flow from that truth.
Catholic German philosopher Josef Pieper in his book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, writes that “Leisure is not idleness, but the opportunity to engage in activities that truly nourish the soul.”
Contrary to the modern understanding of “rest,” Holy leisure is not a state of inactivity, but is actually an active, contemplative stillness and wonder.
Holy Leisure brings us into contact with the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, lifting up our minds and hearts to Him who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, bringing us into communion with Him and drawing us ever closer to our ultimate end.
It brings deep (and much needed) refreshment to our souls and, as Pieper says, is a “...necessity for a well-lived and meaningful life.”
Your soul wants this life-giving rest; the next question is what does it look like for you?
Make a List
Think about the activities you most enjoy doing; you know, the ones you usually say you don’t have the time for. What comes to mind?
Reading a book, taking a hike, spending time in the garden, stargazing, painting, exercising (may we suggest our Online Studio?)--these activities can connect you to God and re-energize your body and soul.
Make a list and refer back to it as often as you need. Pick at least one to do this week.
Grab your Calendar
Prioritizing Holy Leisure in your life isn’t always easy, but it is worth it. What do you need to make time and space for it?
Maybe you want to set aside time in the evenings for reading, or wake up early to watch the sunrise with your coffee. Setting aside Sundays as a day of rest can help you enter into leisure with the right heart posture and will also help orient your whole week toward God.
Pick a time and put it on your calendar in INK. While the work you do is important, this small time for leisure is even more important. Don’t let yourself miss out on it.
Ready, Set, REST!
This understanding of Holy Leisure challenges society’s definition of rest.
The world will tell you you are “wasting time” but you can rest in the fact that you were made for this closeness and communion with God. You were made to enjoy this freedom given to you as His Child.
Embrace true, holy leisure and see how it changes your life.
Building habits requires investing time and energy up front to reap the benefits in the long run. Just like investing money, your investment of time and energy compounds leading to the fullness of life Jesus has in store for you.
Part I: Where can you go wrong?
Maybe you didn’t think it through with God in prayer. Perhaps you focused on what you would do rather than your desired result. Did you consider why this mattered to you and those you care about? Did you make a plan to remove and/or overcome the obstacles that would inevitably get in your way? Did you try to be someone you’re not rather than person God made you to be? You “failed” because you set yourself up to fail.
“Failed? You haven’t failed. You’ve gained experience.”—St. Josemaria Escriva.
So fail, learn, and move on.
You got so worried about making a bad decision that you never made any decision. “I could do this. I could do that. Ooh, what if I do that? But what if...” You’re stuck in your own head, never doing anything. De-cide in Latin means to “cut off,” to cut off the possibility of doing anything other than what you decided. Feel the pain of staying the same. Let yourself hit the threshold of saying, “Enough! I’ve had it. No more. This has to change now, and I am the one to change it,” take action!
Five frogs were sitting on a log. Two decided to jump off. How many were still sitting on the log? 5 because there’s a gap between decision and execution. Even worse, there’s often a lag time between execution and results. You’re being tested to see if you’ll keep taking the right actions even when you don’t see immediate improvement. This is where resolve comes in – your grit, determination, tenacity, stick-to-itiveness that says “I will not give up. I will not be denied.” Then there’s the worst irresolution of all. When you start to see results, and you slacken your efforts until you have to start all over. Yuck.
Part II: Making a Prudent Decision
That’s right. Think it through, bring it to Jesus in prayer.
Ask yourself: What’s most important to me right now? What’s most important to Jesus right now? What area of my life would my heavenly Father want me to focus on: body, mind, heart, spirit, family/friends, work/career, stewardship/finances, giving? It’s very tempting to spend time in an area you’ve already mastered. What if God is calling you to improve an area you’ve neglected for far too long?
Know yourself: Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you prefer routine or spontaneity? Do you like to dive right in or do you prefer to have an “on-ramp” to a new activity? Which temperament did God give you? These questions, and many others like them, can help you see how to build habits in a way that works for you.
Build on success: What good habits do you have right now? How did they develop? Are there some commonalities? How can you learn from these past experiences to set yourself up for success this time?
Wait. “What? I thought you said don’t get stuck deliberating.” Yes, I know. There’s a balance. Some people need a kick in the pants. Some people need to put on the brakes. Some situations will work themselves out without any – or hardly any – effort on your part. Particularly if your decision is to meddle in someone else’s life, then the right move might be to wait and see what God does. Waiting can also mean preparing. Prepare your body, mind, heart, spirit, community, and environment for the change that’s coming.
What do you want and why? God’s will for us is found in our deepest desires. Grab a pen and paper (or use your phone). Write what you want and why you want it. Not actions you’re going to take. Dream. What’s the result you want? If you had a magic wand, how would you design this area of your life? If this area of your life was that way, what would that give you? What emotions would you feel? Who would you become? How would that impact your loved ones? Create a compelling future.
Brainstorm: Our God is a God of Abundance, a God who provides for His children. If you think about your vision, who could help you with advice, knowledge, tips, encouragement, accountability? If you don’t know already, remember: success leaves clues. Your challenge is probably not new. Use Google to find someone who’s already developed the habit you want to build. Also consider your internal resources: courage, determination, confidence, joy, caring… This is just to give you possibilities. You’re not committing to doing anything… yet.
Pick your 3-to-thrive: From your list, choose 3 things you know will have a significant impact. For example, in the area of your body: breathing, sleep, regular activity OR hydrate, flexibility, core strength. These may not be one-and-done, but recurring themes you come back to in order to make progress.
3. Execute the plan
"Decide what to be and go be it." - The Avett Brothers
Set yourself up to win: Right now, there might be a bad habit or a limiting thought that’s stopping you. And it’s really easy to get caught up in. How can you alter your environment to make it hard? Or nearly impossible? Maybe it’s time to throw out the junk that’s holding you back. I didn’t even have to say it, and you knew. And let’s make the new habit easy to do. Want to journal? Buy/dig out a journal. Put it where you’re going to see it every day… multiple times a day. Put it on the kitchen table/counter. Put it where you sit to watch TV. Put it on your pillow so you can’t go to bed without seeing it. Make it hard to NOT journal. Put your new habit’s “paraphernalia” front and center. Make it unavoidable. Let it remind you of your new habit or goal.
Schedule your 3-to-thrive: Put your 3-to-thrive in your calendar. Set reminders. Set them up to repeat. Set up an appointment with anyone who’s going to help you. NEVER leave the site of a decision without taking some action towards its achievement! Get off the log, silly frog!
You’re not going to do this perfectly. So what? Perfectionism is the enemy of progress. You’re building. You’re growing. You’re getting better. Who cares if you’re not “perfect”? Your Father cares about you. He cares about your growth. He cares about your joy. In His eyes, perfection is getting up every time you fall down, coming to Him with your cross, letting Him hold you in His arms.
While it doesn’t happen often (only a handful of times each century!) Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day falling on the same day leaves Catholics around the world wondering—what do we do?
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the penitential season of Lent– 40 Days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to ready our minds and hearts to celebrate the Highest Feast in the Church: the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter.
On Ash Wednesday the faithful are encouraged to have their foreheads marked with a cross of blessed ashes. This act invites each of us to reflect on our mortality, acknowledge our sins, and seek forgiveness. It serves as a poignant reminder of the transformative journey that lies ahead during the Lenten season.
Despite the common misunderstanding, Catholics are not obligated to go to Mass on Ash Wednesday though it is strongly encouraged; however, Catholics do have the obligation to fast and abstain from meat on this day.
Along with Good Friday, Ash Wednesday is only one of two yearly days of obligatory fasting and abstinence for Roman Catholics. These required fasts can only be dispensed for grave reasons, such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, or other health concerns.
Valentine’s Day does not dispense the obligations and observances of Ash Wednesday.
While the secular festivities of Valentine's Day often bury its Christian roots, this holiday originally began as the feast of the 3rd Century Bishop and Martyr St. Valentine, patron saint of love.
However, Valentine’s Day is no longer a feast day officially recognized by the Church. His name was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 actually making February 14th the obligatory memorial of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. But because of its importance, Ash Wednesday takes precedence over this feast too.
We cannot fully enjoy the feast (any feast!) without knowing first of our own hunger for God, which is why fasting plays such a necessary role in the spiritual life.
Not only that, but on a day dedicated to love, it’s even more important to recognize and remember the ultimate symbol of Love–the Cross–a symbol we wear on our foreheads as a reminder of Christ's sacrifice.
So do we just need to forget about Valentine's Day this year?
While you won’t be able to celebrate Valentine’s Day the way you would any other year (or the way the secular culture tells you you should), you can still embrace the spirit of the holiday with these suggestions:
Of course, to avoid scheduling conflicts you can choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day a day early on February 13th.
February 13th is also often called “Shrove Tuesday” or “Mardi Gras” and has become a day where people indulge a bit before Lent begins.
Although a big steak dinner is out as an option for Valentine’s Day this year, you can still choose to spend intentional time with your beloved that day.
Maybe you can go to Mass together to get your ashes, exchange cards or small gifts, join each other for your larger meal of the day, or hold hands and chat. You don’t need heart-shaped confetti and outrageous displays of affection to have meaningful interactions with your loved ones.
Celebrate the True Meaning of Love
After washing the feet of His disciples before his passion and death, Jesus commands his disciples: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34). With His words and actions, Christ gives us an example of sacrificial love to follow in our own lives and relationships.
Consider making time on Ash Wednesday to follow this example. Take on some extra chores for someone. Offer your sufferings for someone who needs it. Do a Work of Mercy.
Ash Wednesday is a time to meditate on God’s abiding love and the gift of His Son who paid the ultimate price for our sins and opened to us the possibility for a real and eternal relationship with the Most Holy Trinity.
Choosing to forego the secular celebrations of Valentine’s Day this year allows you to more fully embrace this new liturgical season and the ways in which it will change your heart to more perfectly reflect Christ’s.
As the winter chill sets in and the days become shorter, maintaining an active lifestyle might seem like a daunting task. Yet, for those dedicated to their fitness goals, the colder months offer a unique opportunity to embrace the invigorating power of cold weather workouts.
When exercising in the cold weather, you need to take extra precautions to stay safe and comfortable while also maximizing your performance. However, many people don’t consider proper nutrition and hydration to be a necessary piece of that puzzle.
Nutrition Before a Winter Workout
Of course, proper nutrition is vital to your fitness success all year round, but it plays an important role during your winter workouts.
Proper nutrition before a wintery workout not only helps provide fuel for your body but it also helps your body regulate its core temperature (an effect known as thermogenesis) ensuring your body is warm and has enough fuel to keep your muscles working properly throughout your session.
Eating helps increase heat production in the body, with a 10% increase being generated 30-60 minutes after eating.
Focus on eating carbohydrate-rich foods pre-workout to top off muscle glycogen stores (to keep your energy up) and a small amount of protein which helps build and repair muscle tissue, and reduce post-exercise soreness. Warm foods are preferable before a cold-weather workout if possible.
Complex carbohydrates like soups, breads, bagels, pasta, baked potatoes, cereals, peanut butter, lean meat and low fat cheeses are best consumed several hours before a winter workout.
Dehydration is one of the biggest causes of reduced performance in cold weather workouts, in part, because getting adequate hydration in the winter feels less intuitive this time of year. You feel less thirsty in the winter than in the heat of the summer, but that doesn’t mean your body needs less water.
In fact, it might even need more.
When you breathe in cold air, your body must warm and humidify that air to regulate your body temperature. With each exhalation, you lose significant amounts of water as it is being humidified. Therefore, more fluids need to be consumed to replace the water that gets lost through respiration.
Four ounces of fluid for every 15 minutes of activity is recommended.
You should eat a snack within 15-30 minutes post-workout. To chase away chills, replenish depleted energy stores, and rehydrate, enjoy warm carbohydrates with a protein, such as hot cocoa made with milk, oatmeal with nuts, chili or soup, pasta with meatballs, etc.
The warm food, added to the thermogenic effect of eating, aids in recovery.
Before you get outside this winter, make sure you are properly feeding and hydrating your body. It will keep your body happy and healthy, while making strides in your fitness goals.
It’s the start of a New Year and whether you love setting resolutions or not, you’re probably looking forward with wonder and anticipation for what the next year holds.
Whatever the Lord has in store for you, there is a patron saint for that.
Catholics are known for their love of the saints.
We understand that the Church on earth is only a part of the Body of Christ, and that through our baptism we are welcomed in the Communion of Saints.
We look to the holy men and women who have gone before us as examples, but as we believe Christ when He says that “...whoever believes in [the Son of God] shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), we also know that the Saints in Heaven are more alive than we are.
Therefore, we can approach them, ask for their prayers, and grow in friendship with them throughout our whole lives.
With the rise of social media, a new tradition has emerged among Catholics to choose a “Saint of the Year” as someone they can look to for inspiration and guidance, particularly during the upcoming year.
Picking a Saint for the New Year
There’s a few ways you can go about picking a patron saint for the year, but however you choose to do it, begin with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to guide the process. Trust the Lord to pick the right saint for you.
Check your Heart
The first method for choosing a Saint of the Year is picking a saint by considering what you’ve already been praying about.
Have any saints been on your heart and mind recently? Is there a particular area of your life for which you need prayers? Read up on the saints and pick the patron you think you need. Again, trust that God has (or will) make it clear to you.
If you need a place to start, check out these saint-related blog posts from our archive:
Good habits put first things first: In an age with so many distractions – cell phones, digital media, tv, entertainment, etc… it’s easy to forget what’s truly important. Good habits can draw you back in to what matters most.
Good habits give you a direction: Things will inevitably go wrong in your life, in your day, in your family. Good habits get you back on the path.
Good habits save you time: Habits get faster. It doesn’t take you as long to tie your shoes now as it did the first time, right? Why? Because you’ve gotten better at it with practice.
Good habits save you energy: It takes energy to make conscious decisions which can lead to decision fatigue. Good habits make those decisions automatically. It’s the difference between driving down the highway with cruise control on and constantly checking your speed and adjusting your foot on the pedal.
Good habits unleash creativity: When your life is on track and you have excess time and energy, you can be more creative, more spontaneous. What might you do if you had access to more of your creativity?
Good habits make you stronger: Mentally. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. Good habits touch every part of your being.
Good habits make time work for you: In the game of life, it’s not where you are now, it’s where you’re going. Good habits build momentum. Have you ever seen an avalanche? That awesome force of nature begins with a single stone or ball of snow. What might happen if you had momentum working for you rather than against you?
Good habits make failure impossible: Wait, you’ve failed at keeping a good habit before, haven’t you? Perhaps you should listen to the words of St. Josemaria Escriva: “So you have failed? I tell you, you cannot fail. You have gained experience.”
Good habits kill stress: Stress is often the price you pay for doing rather than being. You can’t give what you don’t have. Good habits allow you to possess yourself in joy… so you can give yourself away in joy.
Good habits let you be you: God had a dream when He made you. You are precious to Him, priceless, irreplaceable. You are His son/daughter. You don’t have to conform to society’s pseudo-standards, but rather be transformed by Him through good habits.
Good habits let you love others more: When you’re you, it’s so much easier to love. Because you’re more in touch with your heart, your love can flow more freely.
Good habits make your dreams come true: “Discipline drives your dreams,” says January Donovan at The Woman’s School. Don’t focus on the habit at first. Focus on Your Dream. Take some time right now to grab your journal or a piece of paper and write down your dream. What do you want for your physical body? For your mind? For your heart? For your relationship with God? For your family? For your work and career? For your home and finances? Don’t be afraid of what’s in your heart. And don’t play small. Be like a kid at Christmas writing up her list for Santa: “I want a pony. No, wait, 2 ponies, 1 for me and 1 for my best friend. And a swimming pool… with a diving board… and a water slide…” Yes, some of these dreams may be superficial, but underneath those are the deepest desires of your heart, the place God calls you from, the place He’s leading you to… Now set this aside and write your dreams.
Whether you’ve remained steadfast in your observances for Advent or feel like you haven’t embraced the spirit of this liturgical season, you still have a few days left before Christmas to finish strong.
And, the Church in her wisdom, has set aside these final days for a unique meditation on the coming of Christ called the O Antiphons.
In the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve (December 17-23), we sing the ancient and poetic “O Antiphons.”
These antiphons are short prayers said or chanted during the Magnificat prayer of Vespers, as well as the Alleluia verse at daily mass. (You may also recognize them from the start of each verse in the hymn “O Come Come Emmanuel”).
The O Antiphons highlight a different title of the Messiah. Drawing on scriptural imagery of the Old Testament, these antiphons emphasize humanity’s longing for the Messiah and to proclaim the coming of Christ as the fulfillment of this longing.
The O Antiphons are a symbol of hope to a weary people.
They are rooted in the Book of Isaiah and appeared in their current form between the 6th-8th Centuries. They have also been arranged in a specific and meaningful way.
Beginning with the last title and taking the first letter of each one - Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia - the Latin words “ERO CRAS” are formed which means “Tomorrow, I will come.”
After the waiting of Advent, He who we called upon by each of His titles appears to answer us with a final promise– “Tomorrow, I will come.”
Exploring the Titles:
O Sapientia (O Wisdom): December 17th
O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge
O Adonai (O Lord): December 18th
O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: come to rescue us with your mighty power!
O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse): December 19th
O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!
O Clavis David (O Key of David): December 20th
O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!
O Oriens (O Rising Sun): December 21st
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.
O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations): December 22nd
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
O Emmanuel (O God with Us): December 23rd
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God!
Praying with the O Antiphons:
Read and Meditate
Begin each morning with reading the O Antiphon of the day along with the accompanying scripture verses from the Book of Isaiah. Take some time to meditate on the words throughout the day.
Sing the appropriate verse of the day of O Come O Come Emmanuel as you light the candles on your Advent wreath before dinner time.
Vespers is the evening prayer of the Divine Office (also called the Liturgy of the Hours). And since the O Antiphons are prayed or chanted during Vespers, the O Days are perfect for taking up this treasured prayer. Many parishes also offer Vesper services during this week for you to attend.
The Jesse Tree is a traditional Advent activity and one that is particularly good to do with young children. It illustrates the Story of Salvation and shows how God prepared for Jesus to be born through many generations. Each day of Advent, you read Scripture about someone on Jesus’s family tree and hang an ornament symbolizing the story.
If you’ve already been doing a Jesse Tree during Advent, you’ll see the O Antiphons pop up during this time. If not, you can print or make ornaments for each of the O titles of Christ to display in your home.
Prayer Journal Prompts
Use the day’s antiphon as a writing prompt in your prayer journal. Write down your thoughts on the antiphon and the accompanying scripture verses or use them to write your own poem or prayers.
As we approach the culmination of Advent, the O Antiphons provide a profound opportunity for reflection and prayer. By incorporating the O Antiphons into our Advent practices, we not only connect with centuries of Christian tradition but also reorient our hearts toward God.
These ancient prayers invite us to truly embrace the heart of the Advent season and prepare us to at last receive Christ at Christmas.
May these days of prayer and reflection lead you to a joyous celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.