Justice in Habit Formation: Balancing Discipline and Self-compassion

What is the #1 mistake in building good habits? Trying to be someone you’re not...

 Min read
February 28, 2024

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.

Arbitrary Standards

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.

Individual Differences

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.

Special Circumstances

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’s Call

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.

Pietra Fitness