Thursday, January 7, 2016

2016 New Years Resolutions

Most of us make New Years Resolutions such as losing weight, exercising more, eating better, breaking bad habits, or in some way improving ourselves. In this vein, I like to suggest a New Years Resolution that could dramatically change your life for the better; that is, becoming more Merciful.

In case you haven't heard, in the Roman Catholic faith tradition, 2016 is the Year of Mercy. (Note: Follow this link to the Vatican's Web Page, and this link to the Wikipedia article to learn more about the Year of Mercy.) So if you'd like to become more Merciful, I'd like to suggest some things you can do.

(Note: Follow this link to read the Wikipedia article on the 7 Spiritual and 7 Corporal Works of Mercy.    Attribution: Most of what follows is based on a religious track from Marian Press, Stockbridge, MA (800-804-3823,  and

Spiritual Works of Mercy

1. Admonish Sinners
Correction is sometimes as hard to give as it is to take. It means standing up for moral principles at work, at school, in politics, or in the home. It means taking time to give needed correction (even discipline), especially to children whose minds are impressionable and whose wills are not yet steadfast in truth.

Much of what I write about in this blog is in this vein. It's very hard to stand up for what is right and shine a light on what is wrong. Sometimes it can even cost you your livelihood, your marriage, your friends, or your life. Standing up for the truth cost Socrates, St. John the Baptizer, Jesus,  St. Stephen the Martyr, St. Peter, St. Paul, and millions like them their lives!   

2. Instruct the Ignorant
Ignorance isn't an insult; it just means that you do not know something. Not everyone can be a teacher, but taking time to help a child with their homework, showing the ropes to a new employee at work, sharing your knowledge with fellow employees, or teaching our family members different things are all good ways to instruct the ignorant. How many times have we asked a store clerk where to find something in the store? And they'll instruct ignorant us where to find it.

In my career, I've run across so many employees who refused to share their knowledge with others possibly because of their misguided belief that their job security was based on being the keeper of odd knowledge. Don't be like that! Share what you know with others and raise the collective knowledge base of your organization. What good is knowledge if it's not shared?

3. Counsel the Doubtful
Advice is cheap, so the saying goes, but counsel implies something more loving. It's a Christian approach to solving problems. Doubts about one's faith, about moral issues, marriage, or questions arising from death or divorce do not need a brush-off with a lame excuse. Doubts need instruction in the Christian point of view. The world has their way of dealing with doubts, but God has a much better way of dealing with doubts. Help others by pointing them in a more positive direction.

4. Comfort the Sorrowful
Sorrow and suffering take many forms: death, divorce, grave illness, unemployment, family problems, mental distress, surgery, etc. How many of these sorrows afflict the people around us and yet go unnoticed without so much as a kind word, without so much as a whispered prayer? Sometimes giving a sympathetic ear or just "being with" a sorrowing person is a great act of mercy.

5. Bear Wrongs Patiently
Patience - the bane of the world which hurries only to have to stand in line. Strive for patience with the small child's constant prattling or the chronic complaint of the elderly. Try patience with the slowness of the freeway traffic or the drudgery of a job. Maintain patience with those who never say a kind word, with those whose nagging puts your teeth on edge. Have patience with your own personal pain and suffering; don't add to the the griping around you. Oftentimes, the best reply to insults and accusations is silence. Don't lower yourself to other people's level by returning insult for insult, criticism for criticism, hatred for hatred, or bad behavior for bad behavior. That only perpetuates evil. Instead bear wrongs patiently and return love for evil.

6. Forgive Offenses
Forgive the sharp criticism, the angry retort so easily and thoughtlessly said. Physical injuries heal faster than mental or spiritual ones; dwelling on a wrong only increases its size, breeding hatred, the antithesis of Christ's love. Injuries, voluntary or involuntary, are inescapable; forgiveness heals them.

Forgiving takes so much less energy than hating. Forgiveness is a verb and it takes time so you have to continually practice it especially towards those who deeply hurt you.

7. Pray for the Living and the Dead
It is impossible to physically aid the many people - even those in our own families - who need our help. But we can reach out to them in prayer. All people, living or dead, benefit from a remembrance in prayer, including those praying.

Corporal Works of Mercy

1. Feed the Hungry
2. Give Drink to the Thirsty
These two works of mercy start out in the home, from the hot meal on the table or the cup of water for a child, and extend to the community. The unemployed, the elderly, and the sick benefit from care programs, but these programs are ineffective without food donations, cash contributions, and volunteered time. The doer of mercy can also support national and religious relief organizations and self-help projects such as the vendor on the street, a refugee vegetables stand at the market, or the repair shop run by a minority group. Rather than patronizing the big-box stores and large service providers, patronize the small mom-and-pop businesses.

3. Cloth the Naked
Our Savior tells us that if a person has two coats, he should give one away. Perhaps the need isn't apparent in the immediate neighborhood, but it does exist. Go through your closet and find clothing to donate to the needy or local refugee aid groups. Without the excess, storage problems disappear. 

4. Shelter the Homeless
The unemployed living in cars or abandoned tunnels and caves are in desperate straits, and those who help them need both material and spiritual support. Aging relatives may be just as homeless when they must leave their homes for apartments or are made to feel unwelcome - even as visitors - in the homes of their kin. The refugees transplanted to the strange country, the building tenants forced out of their apartment by fire or eviction, the battered wife or unwed mother on her own are all homeless in need of shelter, companionship, and help in resettlement.

Homelessness is a huge problem here in Southern California (I suppose because the weather is so nice). It's not normal to want to be homeless. Many homeless folks are mentally-ill or addicted to drugs or alcohol, and don't even want help. Rather than enabling these kinds of homeless people by giving them money, instead donate to organizations who try to help the homeless like Father Joe's Villages.

5. Comfort the Imprisoned
Helping captives or the imprisoned is not limited to joining prison volunteer organizations. Some people are imprisoned within the walls of their own homes  - the handicapped, the sick, the elderly, the new mother. For them, ransom may be a visit, a shipping trip, a helping hand once a week, or merely a short chat on the telephone.

6. Visit the Sick
Hospital visits or the semi-weekly trudges to the nursing home are often viewed with chagrin. But put yourself in the sick person's shoes. A short visit to a hospital room, a neighbor's bedside, or the local nursing home is time-consuming, but for the person being visited, the time given is very precious.

7. Bury the Dead
Plague-ridden bodies no longer litter the streets. Modern funeral practices have taken the details of caring for the dead off our hands. But the personal expression of sympathy, the hug or handshake at the vigil or funeral service, or the donation of food are important to the grieving. the ceremonies remember the dead, but we are expected to support the living in their sorrow.

Most of us who've had beloved pets bury them in the back yard when they die. It's our way of honoring God's creatures who've given us so much love in their short lives. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

How to Break a Bad Habit (and Replace It With a Good One) by James Clear

How to Break a Bad Habit (and Replace It With a Good One)

Bad habits interrupt your life and prevent you from accomplishing your goals. They jeopardize your health — both mentally and physically. And they waste your time and energy.
So why do we still do them? And most importantly, is there anything you can do about it?
I’ve previously written about the science of how habits start, so now let’s focus on the practice of making changes in the real world. How can you delete your bad behaviors and stick to good ones instead?
I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but keep reading and I’ll share what I’ve learned about how to break a bad habit.

What causes bad habits?

Most of your bad habits are caused by two things…
Stress and boredom.
Most of the time, bad habits are simply a way of dealing with stress and boredom. Everything from biting your nails to overspending on a shopping spree to drinking every weekend to wasting time on the internet can be a simple response to stress and boredom.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can teach yourself new and healthy ways to deal with stress and boredom, which you can then substitute in place of your bad habits.
Of course, sometimes the stress or boredom that is on the surface is actually caused by deeper issues. These issues can be tough to think about, but if you’re serious about making changes then you have to be honest with yourself.
Are there certain beliefs or reasons that are behind the bad habit? Is there something deeper — a fear, an event, or a limiting belief — that is causing you to hold on to something that is bad for you?
Recognizing the causes of your bad habits is crucial to overcoming them.

You don’t eliminate a bad habit, you replace it.

All of the habits that you have right now — good or bad — are in your life for a reason. In some way, these behaviors provide a benefit to you, even if they are bad for you in other ways.
Sometimes the benefit is biological like it is with smoking or drugs. Sometimes it’s emotional like it is when you stay in a relationship that is bad for you. And in many cases, your bad habit is a simple way to cope with stress. For example, biting your nails, pulling your hair, tapping your foot, or clenching your jaw.
These “benefits” or reasons extend to smaller bad habits as well.
For example, opening your email inbox as soon as you turn on your computer might make you feel connected. At the same time looking at all of those emails destroys your productivity, divides your attention, and overwhelms you with stress. But, it prevents you from feeling like you’re “missing out” … and so you do it again.
Because bad habits provide some type of benefit in your life, it’s very difficult to simply eliminate them. (This is why simplistic advice like “just stop doing it” rarely works.)
Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar benefit.
For example, if you smoke when you get stressed, then it’s a bad plan to “just stop smoking” when that happens. Instead, you should come up with a different way to deal with stress and insert that new behavior instead of having a cigarette.
In other words, bad habits address certain needs in your life. And for that reason, it’s better to replace your bad habits with a healthier behavior that addresses that same need. If you expect yourself to simply cut out bad habits without replacing them, then you’ll have certain needs that will be unmet and it’s going to be hard to stick to a routine of “just don’t do it” for very long.

How to break a bad habit

Here are some additional ideas for breaking your bad habits and thinking about the process in a new way.
Choose a substitute for your bad habit. You need to have a plan ahead of time for how you will respond when you face the stress or boredom that prompts your bad habit. What are you going to do when you get the urge to smoke? (Example: breathing exercises instead.) What are you going to do when Facebook is calling to you to procrastinate? (Example: write one sentence for work.) Whatever it is and whatever you’re dealing with, you need to have a plan for what you will do instead of your bad habit.
Cut out as many triggers as possible. If you smoke when you drink, then don’t go to the bar. If you eat cookies when they are in the house, then throw them all away. If the first thing you do when you sit on the couch is pick up the TV remote, then hide the remote in a closet in a different room. Make it easier on yourself to break bad habits by avoiding the things that cause them.
Right now, your environment makes your bad habit easier and good habits harder. Change your environment and you can change the outcome.
Join forces with somebody. How often do you try to diet in private? Or maybe you “quit smoking” … but you kept it to yourself? (That way no one will see you fail, right?)
Instead, pair up with someone and quit together. The two of you can hold each other accountable and celebrate your victories together. Knowing that someone else expects you to be better is a powerful motivator.
Surround yourself with people who live the way you want to live. You don’t need to ditch your old friends, but don’t underestimate the power of finding some new ones. If you don’t know where to start, then join a Superhuman Meetup.
Visualize yourself succeeding. See yourself throwing away the cigarettes or buying healthy food or waking up early. Whatever the bad habit is that you are looking to break, visualize yourself crushing it, smiling, and enjoying your success. See yourself building a new identity.
You don’t need to be someone else, you just need to return to the old you. So often we think that to break our bad habits, we need to become an entirely new person. The truth is that you already have it in you to be someone without your bad habits. In fact, it’s very unlikely that you had these bad habits all of your life. You don’t need to quit smoking, you just need to return to being a non–smoker. You don’t need to transform into a healthy person, you just need to return to being healthy. Even if it was years ago, you have already lived without this bad habit, which means you can most definitely do it again.
Use the word “but” to overcome negative self–talk. One thing about battling bad habits is that it’s easy to judge yourself for not acting better. Every time you slip up or make a mistake, it’s easy to tell yourself how much you suck.
Whenever that happens, finish the sentence with “but”…
  • “I’m fat and out of shape, but I could be in shape a few months from now.”
  • “I’m stupid and nobody respects me, but I’m working to develop a valuable skill.”
  • “I’m a failure, but everybody fails sometimes.”
Plan for failure. We all slip up every now and then.
As my main man Steve Kamb says, “When you screw up, skip a workout, eat bad foods, or sleep in, it doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human. Welcome to the club.”
So rather than beating yourself up over a mistake, plan for it. We all get off track, what separates top performers from everyone else is that they get back on track very quickly. For a handful of strategies that can help you bounce back when you make a mistake,read this article.

Where to go from here

If you’re looking for the first step to breaking your bad habits, I’d suggest starting with awareness.
It’s easy to get caught up in how you feel about your bad habits. You can make yourself feel guilty or spend your time dreaming about how you wish things were … but these thoughts take you away from what’s actually happening.
Instead, it’s awareness that will show you how to actually make change.
  • When does your bad habit actually happen?
  • How many times do you do it each day?
  • Where are you?
  • Who are you with?
  • What triggers the behavior and causes it to start?
Simply tracking these issues will make you more aware of the behavior and give you dozens of ideas for stopping it.
Here’s a simple way to start: just track how many times per day your bad habit happens. Put a piece of paper in your pocket and a pen. Each time your bad habit happens, mark it down on your paper. At the end of the day, count up all of the tally marks and see what your total is.
In the beginning your goal isn’t to judge yourself or feel guilty about doing something unhealthy or unproductive. The only goal is to be aware of when it happens and how often it happens. Wrap your head around the problem by being aware of it. Then, you can start to implement the ideas in this article and break your bad habit.
Breaking bad habits takes time and effort, but mostly it takes perseverance. Most people who end up breaking their bad habits try and fail multiple times before they make it work. You might not have success right away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have it at all.

1. Hat tip to Leo Babauta for originally talking about stress and boredom driving bad habits.
2. Hat tip to Scott Young for sharing the great idea about using the word “but” to overcome negative self–talk.

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