Habits can be hard to develop, and bad habits can be hard to get rid of. Last week I wrote about some of the goals I have set for myself. Today I want to talk about habits that I have developed because of the goals I have set in the past. One in particular, that has taught me more about setting goals and establishing habits, is that of physical exercise.
17 years ago, at the beginning of the New Year, I set a goal that is familiar to many people every year. I wanted to lose weight. I decided the best way to go about doing that was to exercise 5 days a week. I bought several workout videos, I think the first of which was called The Firm workout. There were weights, steps, a weighted bar, etc. Those workouts started hard, but as I kept at it, I actually started to enjoy those workouts. Fast forward 17 years, and that one goal, that one thing I persevered in doing so long ago has become a habit. Do I miss days periodically, yes. Do I beat myself up about it? No. But I also don’t allow myself to get out of the habit. I make sure if I miss a day, it’s only one. Now, with the streaming options online, even when I’m out of town I can find some way to exercise, so I don’t miss. Through this process I have learned a lot, not just about exercise, but about myself, and how what I have learned applies to so many situations.
I learned that if I want something bad enough, I will work for it. I think sometimes we set goals that seem nice, that other people are setting and look fun, or that maybe we know would be good for us, but our hearts really aren’t in it. So we need to make sure those goals, those habits we are developing are appropriate for us, and that we have thought through the steps we need to take to accomplish them. I think that every goal hits a wall at some point. Everything that is important to us will be hard at somewhere in the process, but that doesn’t make it less worth while, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be accomplished or that we can’t accomplish it. It just means we have to press forward, even when we don’t want to, even when we might not see the next step ahead or it feels like we are stepping out into the dark, because the end result will be so much better than where we started.
Through my exercise, especially lifting weights, I also learned that no matter what we do, we need to increase in some sort of strength. Whether it be weights, our ability to read, to paint, to excel in our work, to be a better parent, no matter the goal, it requires some sort of increase in mental, physical, or spiritual strength. When we lift weights, we get sore. I have been sore enough that when I drop something on the floor, I’ve looked at it wondering if I really needed it bad enough to bend over and pick it up! But at no point did I look at my workout and say, “I think I’ll save myself some soreness and just not exercise today, or I’ll lift lighter so I don’t hurt.” (Remember you need to know your body well enough to know what is a good sore, and when you are actually hurting yourself, don’t hurt yourself!) I know that by breaking down my muscles, I am actually building them up. When we set goals, we need to remember that at some point it’s going to be hard. We’re breaking down who we were, and becoming something better. Don’t give up just because it’s hard.
I have applied this knowledge to many aspects of my life to develop habits that benefit me on a daily basis. But one particular area has benefited greatly from the understanding I have gained through exercising – my understanding of my purpose here on earth, who I am, where I’m going and how to get there. We each have trials in life. They come in all varieties, and we all have them, no matter how perfect someone’s life may appear. I have heard people say, “If God really loved us, this wouldn’t be happening.” Through my life and the Gospel of Jesus Christ I have learned that one of the purposes for us being here is to see if we are willing to follow our Heavenly Father no matter what. How are we supposed to prove that if we flit through life and nothing bad ever happens to us? Just like our physical muscles, our spiritual muscles need to be worked. If our patience is never tried, how will we know if we have patience, and how will we improve upon that if we don’t even know where we are. If our faith is never put to the test, how will we know if we truly have faith, and how would we strengthen it if we never trusted in the Lord. Do I have enough of a testimony of the Atonement of Christ to repent, and to allow others the same opportunity? Our spiritual muscles need as much, if not more, exercise than our physical body. Trials aren’t fun, challenges are hard, but they are also great opportunities for growth. Set goals ahead of time to develop habits that will help you through challenges and trials, increased faith, regular prayer, daily scripture study, helping others, etc. These habits increase all our spiritual capacities more than we may realize at the time. They strengthen our foundations, so we can stand no matter what.
There are many kinds of goals. Each goal will not only teach us about that goal, about ourselves as it concerns that goal, but as we develop those goals into habits, we can learn so much more about who we are than just that one particular thing. Looking for the knowledge we gain can help us apply that knowledge to so many situations. Accomplishing goals helps us know that we can, it gives us confidence in our abilities, in who we are. Remember, we’re breaking down who we were and becoming something better.