« He that is loose and slack in his work, is the brother of him that wasteth his own works » (Proverbs 18:9)
Mid-Year Goal Evaluation
Now that we are in the second half of the year, it is an ideal time to assess our year thus far in terms of our spiritual progress. I have often recommended people set Catholic-based goals as part of their New Year’s Resolutions. And I strongly encourage people to reflect each week on how those goals are going – in addition to other goals (e.g., professional, family, financial, fitness, etc). Goals are not useful if we set them and forget them. And the same is true for our good resolutions made in Confession or our ambitious plans at the beginning of the year to study the Faith more, to pray more often, to assist at Mass more days in the week, to fast more, or to conquer our vices or dominant fault. We need reminders to assess what we are doing. I encourage people to spend time each week to assess all of these. I have found that either Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays, work best for this kind of review.
The Importance of a Daily Schedule
As James Clear makes evident in his best-seller « Atomic Habits, » small, incremental changes in day-to-day life can have an enormous impact over the long term. A daily schedule is one way we can better organize our lives for greater productivity to fulfill our vocation. Since so many people are prone to say they do not have time to pray, study, or assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass during the week, crafting a schedule that is conducive to Catholic life is an ideal starting point for achieving Catholic-based productivity.
Father Patrick Troadec, in « From Epiphany to Lent, » provides a short but helpful reflection on the importance of having a daily schedule:
We have various obligations depending on our role in society, and it is not rare that we neglect certain of our duties and let ourselves be absorbed by others…or by leisure…We can fail in some of our duties simply because we are disorganized, but certain other activities we do sometimes neglect deliberately because we find them distasteful.
So the first question we have to ask ourselves is this: Among our duties, do we not have a tendency to put too much emphasis on one aspect, to the detriment of some other? Once we have made an inventory of our duties, we have to prioritize our activities, sifting what seems urgent from what is really important, and giving an absolute priority to what is important. That will help us to see where best to start and what time to dedicate to each activity.
And so if we wish our life to be more fruitful and effective, it is good to reflect on the way we spend the precious time which God gives us for working out our salvation. Too many people let themselves be caught in the two-sided trap of overwork and idleness. So it is important to reflect on the means of avoiding this double pitfall. The means is simple and it is within everybody’s grasp: it is a daily schedule. A daily schedule that is well made, well structured, can help us bring more peace into our life, more serenity and more effectiveness.
For there are two ways of living: allowing the events of the day to carry us along as the various occupations arise one after the other, or else guiding those events by determining the place and the time for every occupation. And there is no doubt that this second solution is the better and the more effective of the two.
With a daily schedule that is well thought-out, we truly conform our will to the will of God and we run much less of a risk of sacrificing the essential to the secondary, the important to the trivial. Help me, Lord Jesus, always to organize the broad lines of my days, to plan a time for everything, to be always occupied with something and to avoid not only idleness but overwork, both of which are harmful to my balance and to my spiritual life.
In the past, I shared « A Daily Schedule for A Christ-Centered Life, » which can be adapted for your needs. The principle of finding morning and evening times for prayers is key. Practicing our routine daily, in the same spot and at the same time, is highly effective. And as James Clear teaches in « Atomic Habits, » habit stacking can be very effective. This practice involves attaching a new habit to an existing one, using the current habit as a cue for the new behavior. For instance, saying that you will say morning prayers and the Angelus after brushing your teeth and showering is habit stacking. You then know when to do it. And you set a specific place each day for it. This has been shown to significantly increase the likelihood of success.
Principles of Atomic Habits to Use for Catholic Goals
The main points of the book can be summarized as follows. Think through each on how it can help you grow in sanctity this year.
- The Four Laws of Behavior Change: James Clear outlines four fundamental principles that drive habit formation:
- Cue: A trigger that initiates the habit.
- Craving: The desire or motivation to act on the habit.
- Response: The actual behavior or habit itself.
- Reward: The positive outcome or benefit from performing the habit.
- Make Habits Obvious: To build good habits, Clear advises making cues and triggers more visible and noticeable. This could involve setting up visual cues or creating specific routines to prompt the desired behavior. Having your Rosary out is one such cue. If it is in the closet or in a bag, you will not think to pray it.
- Make Habits Attractive: Linking positive emotions and rewards to habits can make them more appealing. By associating enjoyable experiences with the habit, we are more likely to repeat it.
- Make Habits Easy: Simplifying the process of habit formation increases the likelihood of success. Reducing friction and lowering the barriers to entry for positive habits makes them easier to adopt.
- Make Habits Satisfying: Providing immediate and satisfying rewards for completing a habit reinforces the behavior. Feeling a sense of accomplishment can reinforce the habit loop.
- Break Bad Habits: To break undesirable habits, it is essential to identify the cues and triggers that lead to them. Understanding the underlying reasons for these habits helps in replacing them with positive alternatives.
- The Role of Identity: Clear emphasizes the significance of seeing ourselves as the type of person we want to become. By adopting a new identity and belief system, we align our habits with our desired self-image. We are Catholics. That means something with how we live and act. And this identity requires a behavioral change.
- The Two-Minute Rule: A practical strategy to overcome procrastination and build new habits is to start with actions that take less than two minutes to complete. This simplifies the task and provides momentum to continue. This is a great way to help us pray the Angelus more. Just set a timer on your phone or watch for 6 AM, Noon, and 6 PM each day. The Angelus takes only a few minutes to pray.
- Habit Stacking: This technique involves attaching a new habit to an existing one, using the current habit as a cue for the new behavior. This method increases the likelihood of forming the new habit.
- Environment Matters: Modifying the environment can significantly impact habit formation. By organizing our physical and digital spaces to support positive habits, we make it easier to follow through. Having a specific place to pray is one way we can adapt this. It does not even need to be an entire room. Having a certain chair used only for spiritual reading or setting up a home altar can be very effective.
- Plateau of Latent Potential: Often, breakthroughs come after consistent efforts, even when it seems like progress is slow. Habits may take time to show their full impact.
Now that we are halfway through the year assess how you can make renewed progress for the spiritual life in the second half of the year. Finish strong. Fight the good fight. Do not treat the Catholic Faith as one part of your life but rather, treat it as the center of your life. Prioritize your Catholic values and goals. As our Lord said, « Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you » (Matthew 6:33).
If you have any recommendations for how to organization your productivity to live a Catholic life, or if you have any links to books, podcasts, articles, or videos that you found helpful, please paste them in the comments below.