Where do you want to go with your life? And what’s keeping you from getting there?
These are the Thomas Merton questions that we seldom ask of another. Or ourselves.
For good reason. It’s hard work. It requires slow thinking. Yet many of us have so many daily responsibilities and distractions, we seldom have time to think. We’re constantly under pressure to get more done and prone to feel like we’re falling farther and farther behind. The idea of slowing down to think about our future seems like a luxury. Something for another time; for vacation perhaps.
But you don’t have to wait for a vacation to think more intentionally about your future. Here are five habits that even the perpetually busy can cultivate in less time than you think:
- Journaling. Readers of this blog or listeners to my podcast know how valuable journaling has been to me. In fact, I’ve become sensitive to the possibility that my many mentions of it may make journaling sound like a panacea to all that ails you. Yet, I have found no better way to think slowly than to do it by writing long-hand. I do it daily and it takes about 30 minutes to write three pages. Check out these posts on why, how, and what to write about (or search my blog for more).
- Reading. In a letter to Robert Hooke, Sir Isaac Newton wrote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” To see further in our own lives, we’ll do well to stand on the shoulders of others as well. Saturating yourself with regular reading of a broad field of books is one of the most effective ways to do so. Reading is a slow, deliberate undertaking where the mind can steep in the juices of an idea. Yet, despite the many advantages of reading (listen to my podcast about it), it remains one of the most undeveloped habits for many adults. Pick up the one you’ve neglected there on your nightstand, or one of my favorites from last year. Cultivating this daily habit takes less time than you think. You can read the entire Bible in a year—and most other books in a month— with an investment of just 15 minutes a day.
- Prayer. We often turn to prayer as a matter of last resort after all our other options are exhausted. When was the last time you said, or heard, these words, “All I can do now is pray?” Prayer is the first thing we should do, for it reminds us that we are neither in control nor do we possess the full wisdom we need to properly discern a situation. Take your prayer life beyond mealtime. Turn off the radio and pray during your commute instead. Pour out prayers in your journal. Go for a walk or sit in silence and commune with God. You have a partner in your future. Talk to Him about it. The good news is that He’s always there, 24/7.
- Curiosity. We often think of curiosity as an innate trait; that some are naturally more curious than others. You become curious, however, by cultivating a habit to look beyond the obvious. Those who practice it are aware that the human brain is naturally lazy, forming presuppositions that it is loathe to challenge. Curious people do not let their presuppositions have a free ride. They learn to ask questions and then to stay quite to listen, believing as Larry King once said, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”
- Retreats. A retreat is time away from your normal environment for intentional reflection. Some oppose using the word “retreat” because they believe it conveys defeat. Instead, they cleverly propose the word “advance” as a more suitable alternative. I don’t agree. There are times for expansions and time for contractions. Both must be practiced. Retreats are contractions; opportunities to get away, regroup and rethink. One of the reasons we so often ignore taking retreats is that our culture values expansion—always pushing. But that’s like always exhaling. Soon, you run out of air. Get out a pen and circle that day or two (or three) and proudly take that retreat you know you need. It will be time well spent. If you’re not sure what do to on one, check out my podcast about it.
If you’re among the perpetually busy, these may seem impossible to add. But when you commit to just one, you’ll find other things in your life rearranging to accommodate it. And you’ll find more yourself more able to answer those Merton questions: where am I going and what’s keeping me from getting there.
Comment below: What other habits do you practice to think more intentionally about your future?