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April 4, 2011

How Good Habits Breed Good Habits: Or, Naps, Aristotle, and Lent

What do a book about napping, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and the season of Lent have in common?   They’ve each, in one way or another, contributed to my renewed perspective on the compounded positive effects of good habits.


To start:  baby’s naps.  What I learned from reading Elizabeth Pantley’s The No-Cry Nap Solution and from subsequent astute observation of Jacob’s habits is that when a baby takes longer and more frequent naps during the day, he generally falls asleep more easily at bedtime.  I would have thought—and still sometimes want to believe—that if a baby is more tired throughout the day, he will fall asleep earlier at night.  Yet the opposite is the case!  But then don’t we all do this, to an extent?  When we’re overtired, it can be difficult to unwind and relax into sleep.  But when we’re regularly getting the rest we need, bedtime is a breeze.


Aristotle presents a similar idea.  If I recall correctly, one of the points he makes in Nicomachean Ethics is that if a man wants to be virtuous, he must first act virtuously.  With consistency over time, the man will eventually grow the virtues in his mind and heart.  Again, good habits produce even more good habits, and ones that are both more deeply ingrained in us and more meaningful in other aspects of our lives.


I find the same to be true of prayer.  It’s one of those things that I often don’t think I have enough time for, but when I do prioritize it, I realize I not only have the time to pray, but also to accomplish other tasks that I value.  Lent is always a reminder of this for me, and I wonder how I manage to fall away from it again every year.


If humans thrive on good habits, why are we so prone to poor ones?  Various bits I’ve read over the past few days have brought to the fore of my mind the fact that when we take care of ourselves, we are better equipped to care for others.  And especially in motherhood, this is of the utmost importance.



I hope there are folks out there who do this better than I do.  But either way, I hope, at this mid-way point in Lent, there are folks who are finding that the more we offer our time to the worthwhile things in life that are too often neglected—healthy food, sleep, prayer, family—the more we have to give to the other parts of our life as well.


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