Recently I have been reading a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear. It has been so good to learn more about the importance of creating good and solid habits. And I highly recommend picking it up if you are struggling with implementing good habits.
The funny thing is that whenever you are focused on something like that, you tend to notice it or be attracted to it everywhere. So I have had videos pop up on you tube or seen other information that seems to support what I am studying. It even came up in a talk from last weekend’s conference (see One percent better by Elder Michael A. Dunn) So I am concluding that this is something that I need to re-evaluate in my own life.
As I pondered upon some of my “habit stacking”, and the need to apply “the aggregation of marginal gains”. Which simply involves changing something by just 1%, thus changing the previous course that you were on. Which then ends up making a huge difference when put into action in a regular “habit based” routine. As discussed in Clear’s book as well as Elder Dunn’s talk.
It got me thinking about the habits or techniques required to know and feel the Holy Spirit and how it works for you specifically in your own life. Equally important is to know how Satan attempts to thwart your progression (usually by invoking the “aggregation of marginal gains” believe it or not. I talked about that in a previous post).
You see as we have been repeatedly taught there must be opposition in all things. So as soon as we begin improving our ability to listen to and heed the promptings of the spirit. Satan will begin to insert his way into that process to keep us from progressing.
So those two things are what I want to discuss today and next week. And I hope that you will be inspired to re-evaluate your life and your habits to see if you can improve your ability to listen to the guidance of the Savior, Jesus Christ through the conduit of the Holy Spirit. While at the same time improving your ability to ward off the fiery darts of the adversary.
So let’s just go back for a minute to “habit stacking” and the aggregation of marginal gains, as talked about in Atomic Habits. So here is a brief rundown of what habit stacking is. A simplistic way to explain it is, that you often decide what to do next, based on what you have just finished doing.
Think about your morning routine. For example, this is a sample of the first things that I do and probably many of you do too upon waking. First, the alarm goes off, and then after a few snoozes, lol, (no one is perfect right?) I roll out of bed, pull on my socks (I hate cold feet!), which reminds me that I need to quickly make my bed, which then leads me to the restroom, which reminds me to wash my hands, which signals me to brush my teeth and run a comb through my hair. See how that works? One thing leads to another because of the signal that is sent from the prior action.
Most of us practice these small habits on instinct because you have been doing them for so long that they become second nature. So how can we apply this to the gospel and how we listen to and understand how the Lord speaks to us?
Well for starters, we can take a look at our current habits and evaluate how they might be helping or hindering us from hearing and heeding the promptings of the Lord.
One thing that I want to quickly mention is that we are in the last 90 days of this year. So like me, many of you may have begun new habits or set new goals at the beginning of 2021. By now those habits or goals may be falling a bit. Trust me when I say it happens to pretty much everyone.
But what I am getting at is that instead of giving up and just cruising or coasting to the end of 2021, and starting over again next year. I would like to suggest that you put on your running shoes and sprint to the end of the year. Although we have lots of holidays and distractions, that is no reason to give up on the goals or habits that you have been working on since the beginning of the year. We still have almost 3 full months.
In fact, if you are to continue, or start back up where you left off. You will be applying the “aggregation of marginal gains”. Remember? improving by just 1% on a regular basis, which can significantly improve your endgame. In this case, where you would like to be by the end of 2021. So just a little plug there for you to look at what you may have already been working to improve.
Now back to where we were. Looking at our current habits and evaluating how they might be helping or hindering us from hearing and heeding the promptings of the Lord.
So let’s start with habits that are helping us hear and heed. It’s important to note that this will be different for each of us because we all “hear” the Lord in different ways. For some it may come through thoughts or impressions. For others it may come through music. Some people have very vivid dreams. What matters is that you figure out your way and then work to get it to come to the surface more often. And we can do that through implementing specific small habits.
So just to share an example of how I have learned that the Lord speaks to me, I am going to tell you about a journey that I have been on for most of this year. Well at least since the end of March. And I’ve talked about it briefly in previous posts.
Most of you know, if you’ve followed me for any length of time, that I have Bipolar disorder. Which is a mental illness and mood disorder. So I can have extreme highs and extreme lows in my mental health. However, this can be controlled through various means. I happen to apply a variety of means or habits, to each and every day to try and stay on top of it, because it can spiral down (or up) very quickly if I’m not vigilant in this. And I’ve talked alot about the things that I do to prevent that.
But in this example I just want to share what’s been happening this year and how I’ve learned to lean on and heed the promptings of the Lord when it comes to surviving basically a mental health crisis.
One of the ways that I choose to control Bipolar is to use medication, which usually works quite well (once you find a good recipe). So why on Earth, you may ask, would I switch medications when what I had been using seemed to be working pretty well? That’s a good question and one that I reflect on almost daily. However, I did it at the advice of my psychiatrist whom I have grown to trust with my mental health. The reason we did this, and we’d been discussing it over several visits, is because I hadn’t been sleeping well for many months. And that as I’ve talked about before is a strong catalyst for catapulting me into a manic episode. And that thought just scares me to death. I have a lot of truama from my past manic episodes. So the thought of being able to eliminate that worry was very appealing. So in the Spring we decided it was a good time to try.
As you may have guessed, within a few weeks we learned that it was not working as expected, in fact, funnily enough, it had the opposite effect of what we were going for. I actually slept like a baby, which was so great! However over time, in the waking hours, I became like the energizer bunny. Which is a good and bad thing. I mean I was feeling great! But in my case, GREAT is not always a positive thing.
Long story short, it has been a rough year to say the least! I was able to get back on what I was previously doing well on. But sleeping became a problem again. Although it is slowly getting better. It’s a process, that’s what I keep telling myself.
But what I want to share is what I’ve learned through this process when it comes to hearing and heeding promptings. And it has alot to do with habits and the process of changing by just 1% each day.
Several times over the past months I have been able to learn more fully how the Lord speaks to me. But it has not come without work and tears, prayers and reflection.
And now is where habit stacking comes into play. At the beginning of the year, I decided to add scripture study to my daily morning routine. I have been reading the scriptures regularly for the past few years. But this year I was impressed to make it more of a “study”. So my habit stacking looks like this.
After I do what I already mentioned in the morning, I go straight to my supplements and take my medication (taking in my first water bottle of the day), to me that is one of the most important decisions of my day and that’s why it comes first! That then signals me to feed the cat because that is the most important thing for his day! Plus he whines and whines if I forget, haha.
My journaling pens are right by the cat food so I am reminded that it is time to journal. But once I set my books at the table, that is a signal to pray so I take a few minutes for that.
Another thing that I started doing this year that’s a bit of a harder habit for me to remember, is after my prayer I put on my earpods and listen to some gospel music while I journal. (Earpods are charging by the pens for journaling so that should be my signal, but sometimes I miss it). This will be important to note later on.
I then begin the journaling process which usually takes about 15 minutes. I journal in the morning because I can report how I slept, record happenings from the day before and also impressions seem to come better to me in the quiet stillness of the morning.
When I finish with that, I open up my scriptures and start where I left off. But instead of just reading, my goal was to study. So I am very conscientious about noticing words, phrases, or footnotes that stand out to me. It takes about an hour from start to finish after getting out of bed to complete my habit stacked routine.
But then I am on to my day and the habit stacking starts again. Workout, shower, work, lunch!
You get the idea. One thing leads to another and once you do them long enough they begin to become habits and can have a significant change on the trajectory of your life.
I shared all of that because it is through these habits that I have developed the ability to hear and understand the promptings and impressions from the Lord. It hasn’t come all at once and it continues to develop. But every day I am progressing toward a greater understanding of how the Lord speaks to me. Which has been very very important this year in helping to guide me through the rough waters that I have been experiencing with my mental health.
It truly has been such a journey. And I am one to say that there are no coincidences. Do I regret swiching medications? Some days the answer is absolutely! But most days I am grateful for what I have learned about myself spiritually, mentally and physically over this past year. I believe that one of the reasons that we were so intent on changing my medication was because I had prepared myself for the learning and growing process, through the habits that I had already become good at. There was a growing, stretching, learning that needed to take place in my life.
It all dawned on me, a few days ago, that the Lord has a very specific process or pattern that he uses when communicating directly to me. And ironically, it involves my habits in my morning routine.
Why are morning routines so important? We are taught through Elder Dunn’s talk, in a quote from Neal a Maxwell. “Each assertion of a righteous desire, each act of service, and each act of worship, however small and incremental, adds to our spiritual momentum.” Truly, it is by small, simple, and, yes, even just 1% that great things can be brought to pass.
We learn from Alma 37:6 …but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass;…
And 2 Nephi 28:30 For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom;
That sounds like a lesson in habit stacking and 1% gains to me!
So I’m getting a bit side tracked but let me just get to the point about the experience that I shared above of how it dawned on me how all of this came together.
Last week I had been having an especially difficult couple of days (down days). Those are the hard ones for me. I tend to rather enjoy the up days… but they are harder on the people who care about me, which is a good thing. On those few hard days, there was a point when I was crying out to the Lord to just make all the bad feelings stop… to help me to feel better, happy, content with who I am.
During those times, I tend to beg for my illness to be taken away. I tell Him how tired I am of carrying it. I am sure I am not the only one that feels this way at times. We all have heavy burdens that we carry.
But it was during my pleading that it happened. I was taught the pattern, or rather reminded, of the way the Lord speaks to me in a way that I can “hear”.
As I was pleading, I got the distinct feeling that I needed to find a certain song. )Most often music tends to calm me down and allow impressions to come.) But when I opened my phone to begin searching in my music app I noticed that the song that was next to play (of something I’d been listening to earlier) was flashing. Well that’s weird, I was thinking, it’s never done that before. But I continued looking for the song that I had in my mind, but for some reason that flashing made me think, hmmm, maybe I’m supposed to listen to that song. So I clicked on it.
It is a song called “Fragile” from Hilary Weeks Live All In . I hadn’t listened to the whole album yet and that’s the song I had left off on. I basically just sat there in awe of how incredibly omnipotent our Father in Heaven is. The words to that song just matched perfectly how I was feeling and somehow I just knew that the Lord knew exactly what I needed to hear. I needed Him to speak to me and let me know that He knew me, and He was very aware of what I was going through at that very moment.
If you are suffering, trying to put on a brave face every day for any reason, I suggest you go and listen to that song. It really was a calming balm to my soul.
But the really crazy thing is that I was so stunned and so sure that he was speaking to me that I kept listening, hoping the next song would have a message for me. Sure enough it did. The last 3 songs on her album are called Fragile, Someday down the road, and More Mistakes to make. I’ll link them in the show notes.
The reason those are significant is that in my pleading I felt like I had just made so many mistakes over the past several weeks and I felt worthless and like a failure. Which is pretty typical of someone who suffers with depression. When those 3 songs played in that order and it was just exactly what I needed to hear, I was thinking how? How does He know exactly what I need to hear? Of course the communication continued. And as I heard the words of each song I began to feel a little better, and the fog began to lift.
Next, I had the distinct impression that I needed to go study my scriptures. I felt an urgency that there was more for me to know at that moment.
In my mind I asked which book? Where should I search? And I heard the whisper, “the big book”! I knew immediately that it was my triple combination which holds all the books of scripture. Just a side note, I like to study from smaller versions so that I can mark up the wide margins. So I don’t typically go to “the big book”.
When this happens I almost always just randomly open my scriptures trusting that He knows where to lead me. Well, on the first try I got nothing, so I flipped a few pages and opened up to John chapter 10:1-15. The discourse on the good shepherd. Coincidence? I think not.
This is the one where Jesus is talking about how he knows His sheep and they know him.
But one passage caught me. And that is verse 7 And then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say until you I am the door of the sheep.
The door? What on Earth does that mean?
It had a footnote so I looked it up. John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way the truth and the life…
It really felt like He was telling me, “look, I’ve got you! I know that you feel lost and broken in this moment, but I know how you feel and I’ve layed down my life for you! Don’t worry, you’re going to make more mistakes and more mistakes and it’s ok, because you are mine. Look to me… I am the way, the door.
So cool right?!
So what does this have to do with habit stacking and the 1%? Well, here’s my little interpretation or lesson that I learned. Take it for what you will but I do believe that the Lord was telling me, “here is how YOU receive my word.”
- Write down your impressions
I think that my habit stacking or my morning routine of Praying, listening to music, reading my scriptures and journaling my thoughts and impressions is the exact pattern that He uses to speak to me personally.
Now I don’t know why Hilary Weeks wrote those exact words in those songs and then put them in that specific order on her album. I’m sure there are millions of people that her songs have touched. But I do know that for me, it was just what I needed in the exact order that I needed it, from the exact source that I needed to hear it from. Jesus!
As I have looked back after having this particular experience, there have been so many times when I have received answers to specific deep questions or trials have been eased.
Do they always come that way? No, sometimes it is just an impression or just through the words of a song. But I did find that through my 1% change of developing a habit stacking routine has significantly improved my ability to #HearHim.
He is the way, the truth and the life my friends! And I encourage you to take a look at your own morning routine. Or an evening routine if that works better for you. It’s going to look a lot different than mine. Look at what you can do to change by 1%. And then work to be consistent with it. Pray to the Lord and ask Him how He speaks to you. He will find a way to show you.
As I said earlier, this routine has been in the making for several years. It didn’t just happen overnight. It happened in the right place, and at the right time for me to learn what I needed to learn. Line upon line, precept upon precept. 1% will indeed change your life!
Be sure and tune in next week my friends. I will be talking about how Satan, unfortunately, uses the 1% as well.
Choose hope, choose joy and choose to stay! Have a great week my friends! Talk to you all again soon!