A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time. ~ Mark Twain
Living within the margins will be impossible as long as I maintain the habit of saying “yes” to all or even most of the requests I receive for my time and energy. A study from Duke University* has found that more than 40% of the actions we take each day are the result of habits rather than decisions. That means that almost half of the actions we take aren’t conscious, but merely “muscle memory” following along a trajectory. So if I’m going to be successful at setting aside time and energy for my reserves, if I’m going to establish my margins, I’m going to have to change my habits.
Every time I’ve attempted to change a habit by attacking it directly with the full force of my will, I’ve failed. I may make some headway for a short period of time, but it’s not long before the old habit has reasserted itself. However, when I give myself grace and permission to make progress in incremental steps, I’m always much more successful.
I love the picture Twain paints in this quote. Have you ever known a small child who was frightened of going down the stairs? The best way to help them overcome their fear is to move slowly, encouraging them at each step that they are capable of making it all the way down. Changing my habits feels like that to me. I’m encouraging my new habit that it can take the place of my old habit, sometimes making only inches of progress at a time, until I reach the bottom of the staircase and my new habit is in place. In this case, the new habit is the ability to say no to the expectations on my time and energy.
I love my family and friends and want the best for them. I’m committed to increasing the opportunity for education for girls and women. I support every effort to eliminate violence against women. I care passionately about all of these things and many more. And yet, I can’t let my commitment and my passion become an unconscious habit of saying yes without regard for my margins.
This is Day 24 of 31 Days of Soul Tending and the focus is living within the margins. My encouragement for you today is to begin taking the first step toward replacing the habit of saying yes with the ability to say no. The change won’t happen immediately, but it will happen.
* Cited by John Ortberg in “Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You”