My One Word for 2017

As I’ve done for the past three New Year’s Days, today I’m choosing a one word theme to live into for the coming year.  I’ve made goals for 2017, too, but there’s something I like about the simplicity of choosing just one word to knit all my goals together.


My One Word for 2017

For 2017 I’m again choosing the same word I’ve chosen for the past three years.

My one word for 2017 is early.

I will:

  • wake early
  • pray early
  • workout early
  • arrive early
  • get things done early
  • finish my sermon early
  • get to bed early

What about you?  What’s your one word for 2017?  Why?


P.S.  Fox and Hedgehog

The Philosopher Isaiah Berlin, drawing on a line from the Ancient Greek poet Achilocus, wrote a famous essay in 1953 entitled “The Hedgehog and the Fox.”  The basic idea is that the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.  Foxes have a variety of interests; hedgehogs have one stubborn idea.

In this space, I follow my interest wherever it takes me (like a fox) while always writing in the service of The One Big Thing (like a hedgehog).

What’s that One Big Thing?  You’ll have to read to find out.

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How to Use the Time Change to Get Up Early

If you win the morning, you win the day.  This weekend offers you the perfect opportunity to revise your morning routine.  With the time change back to standard time, the extra hour you’ll gain could be exactly what you need to start a new morning routine.  Here are 4 steps to take so you can start getting that early worm.

1.  Go to Bed Early This Saturday Evening.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the extra hour means you can stay up later.  Head to bed at your normal time (or even better, a bit earlier) on Saturday.

2.  Don’t Sleep In on Sunday Morning

Set your alarm for the new early time you’d like to get up on Monday morning.

3.  Begin An Evening Routine

The key to getting up early is preparing the night before.  Set out your clothes for the next morning.  Shut down your email.  Lay out your workout gear.  Put out your coffee cup.  I find that I need to begin shutting down around an hour before I want to be in bed.

4.  When the Alarm Goes Off, Get Your Feet on the Floor ASAP

Once you get your feet on the floor, you’ve already won.  Resist the urge to hit snooze and say “I’ll get up in a few minutes.”  If you roll back over, you’re toast; get up immediately on your alarm.

Make “Early” Your Watchword

Greatness starts early in the morning.  Anyone can learn to get up early, and this weekend offers you the perfect opportunity.  Don’t miss it.



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My One Word for 2016

Resolutions don’t work. Rather than focusing on a list of specific ways we want to live differently each year, I’ve written the last two years about a better alternative: focusing and living into a one word theme for the new year.

My One Word for 2016

If it ain’t broke….  For 2016 I’m keeping the same word I’ve had the previous two years.

My one word for 2016 is early.

I want to:

  • wake up early
  • pray early
  • workout early
  • finish tasks early
  • get to appointments early
  • finish my sermon early
  • get to bed early

What about you?  What’s your one word for 2016?  Why?


P.S.  Have You Subscribed?

Yes, Dear Reader, I know I’ve been absent from the Internets for the past 2 months, but it’s a new year, and I’m going to be posting to my site 3 times a week in 2016.  Click here to subscribe and get my posts delivered straight to your inbox.


My Daily Media Diet

What are the books, podcasts, websites, blogs, and newsletters that make up your media diet?  You are what you eat, and that includes the information you consume.  Today’s post is about what I read daily as part of my media diet (part 1 of a 3 part series).

What Is a “Media Diet?”

“Media diet” is a phrase I came across several years ago in a web series by The Atlantic.  A reporter would interview public figures about how they stayed informed and what they regularly read and watched and make a simple post out of it.  (I still remember Malcolm Gladwell‘s comment about his daily reading habits: “Since my brain really only works in the morning, I try to keep that time free for writing and thinking and don’t read any media at all until lunchtime.”  I totally identify….)

In part 1 of this series (parts 2 and 3 coming on the next two Mondays) about my media diet, I’ll focus on what I read daily (or at least regularly).

What I Do First Thing in the Morning

I’ve written before about the importance of the First 15, i,e., spending at least the first 15 minutes of your day in prayer, scripture, and silence.  So, I’ve been getting up really early recently in order to have an unhurried time of prayer first thing, before I workout.

Currently this is what I use in my prayer time:

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Breakfast: The Dallas Morning News and NPR

After working out and while eating breakfast and getting ready:

  • I get the print version of The Dallas Morning News delivered at home, and read it every morning (except Sundays, when I don’t get to it until late afternoon, if at all).  I have come to really like The DMN and get more locally-focused and sports news from it than anywhere else.
  • I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition radio program most mornings.

Blogs: Rod Dreher (and Not Much Else)

I used to read Andrew Sullivan’s blog almost every day.  Now that he has stopped blogging, almost the only blogger I read regularly is Rod Dreher.  Rod Dreher is a fascinating and unique writer: a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy living in his native rural South Louisiana who writes about culture from a social conservative point of view.

One of the topics Rod Dreher writes about that I find most intriguing and persuasive is the so-called “Benedict Option”: the idea that Christians in the West today may need to follow the 5th century example of St. Benedict and spend less time participating in politics and the culture wars and more time deliberately cultivating the practices that will “thicken” our faith and deepen our witness.  Here is a post from Rod’s blog in July that summarizes his thoughts on the Benedict Option.

Websites I Read Almost Daily

  • I read The New Yorker almost every day.  I like the short form pieces from folks like John Cassidy and Amy Davidson, but I really prefer The New Yorker for its long-form essays like this one about Northern Ireland that I wrote about in April.
  • I also browse The Atlantic‘s website regularly, though I believe that The Atlantic is a much worse magazine since it expanded its online footprint.  Many of the online articles seem to be merely a slightly (sometimes very slightly) more serious version of the kind of thing that I suppose you find on Buzzfeed or The Huffington Post, and I do not mean that as a compliment.  The Atlantic these days seems to feature quick-reaction pieces on hot-button topics that lack nuance and wisdom.  (I’ll say more about my complaints with The Atlantic in part 3 of this series.)
  • I browse the Yahoo! main site and scroll through the headlines, particularly about sports and politics.
  • I check out the BBC Sport’s soccer page almost daily.

Online Newsletters and Other Sites

  • I read movie reviews on Plugged In every few weeks or so.  I’m interested in movies, but I like reading reviews from a conservative Christian perspective (a perspective you don’t get from mainstream reviewers).  I rarely have time to see movies in the theater anymore, so I find myself reading many more reviews of movies than actually seeing movies.
  • I’ve recently discovered Book Notesa free newsletter from Byron Borger, owner of Hearts and Minds bookstore in central Pennsylvania.  Through Book Notes, I’ve stumbled across books that I would never have heard of elsewhere–it’s a great resources.
  • I read articles and watch videos the videos on the CrossFit main site several times a week.

Coming in Parts 2 and 3….

Parts 2 and 3 will be about what I regularly listen to and watch and read in print.  The above is what I read online on a  regular basis.  What about you?  What makes up your daily media diet?



P.S.  Subscribe!

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My One Word for 2015

Resolutions don’t work.  Rather than focusing on a list of specific ways we want to live differently each year, I wrote last year about a better alternative: focusing and living into a one word theme for the new year.

"San Giorgio Maggiore at Dawn" [1819] by J.M.W. Turner [Wikimedia Commons]

“San Giorgio Maggiore at Dawn” by J.M.W. Turner, 1819 [Wikimedia Commons]

The Most Important Thing I Did in 2014

The single most important thing I did in 2014 was make a habit of getting up early for prayer and exercise.  As I’ve written previously, that habit was a keystone habit that affected every area of my life last year.

Overall, I did better in the first seven months of the year than I did in the final five months, when I found myself busier than I’d ever been in my life.  Rather than redoubling my efforts towards my early habit when I needed it most, I let it slide, and therefore so did my prayer life, physical fitness, and sermon quality.  (No kidding–I think my early habit helps me be a much more effective preacher.)

So, I’m keeping the same word for 2015 as I had for 2014.

My One Word for 2015

My one word for 2015 is early.

I want to:

  • wake up early
  • pray early
  • workout early
  • finish tasks early
  • get to appointments early
  • finish my sermon early (this would be life-changing!)
  • get to bed early

What about you?  Why?  Leave comments below.


P.S. A Note to My Dear Readers

Dear reader, today is our one year anniversary.  I’ve enjoyed writing for this blog, and though I’ve been doing it infrequently, I’m interested in writing more regularly in 2015.

If you haven’t yet done so, why not sign up to receive updates from me?  I promise to only rarely share your info with Russian spammers.  (Just kidding–I’ll sell it to the highest bidder, regardless of nationality.)

You can sign up at the top right of this page.

One Word That Will Change Your Life

What if there were one word that had the power to change every aspect of your life?  What if one word could affect your health, your finances, your marriage, your career?  What if applying one word to your everyday life could really have that much of an effect?

Polish nun wearing a habit in 1939.

Polish nun wearing a habit in 1939. []

The Power of Habit (which isn’t our “one word”)

Charles Duhigg wrote about habits in his 2012 book The Power of Habit, which I briefly reviewed here.  As Mr. Duhigg explains, your brain develops habits so you don’t have to spend energy thinking through decisions–you just act without thinking.  An important part of that process is the “habit loop,” which works like this:

First, there is the cue that triggers the habit;

Second, there is the routine itself;

Third, there is the reward from the routine.

The habit loop (

This Is Why You Are Addicted to Your Phone

In practice, the habit loop might work like this:

1.  Your phone buzzes.  That’s the cue.

2.  You take your phone out and look at it.  That’s the routine.

3.  You get a dopamine hit from the new email.  That’s the reward.  Note that sometimes the email or notification you get isn’t meaningful to you.  But, because sometimes the notification might mean something, your brain still perceives it as a potential reward.

What important conversation have you interrupted so you could look at your phone?  Why?  (

The power of the habit loop is evident in the way many of us will interrupt virtually anything else going on in our lives to look at our phones when they buzz.  And it’s all because of the simple habit loop of cue, routine, and reward.


Change Your Habits, Change Your Life

Knowing this about habits, we are able to manipulate them to get the results we want.  In some ways, for example, Alcoholics Anonymous is all about replacing destructive habits with healthy ones.  (This is why coffee is an important part of so many AA meetings.  Coffee becomes part of a replacement habit loop.)

Here’s the truth: if you are intentional about your habits, you can change your life.


The Power of a Keystone Habit

When the first one falls, so do all the rest.... [

When the first one falls, so do all the rest….

The really interesting part of The Power of Habit is the discussion about so-called “Keystone Habits.”  A keystone habit is a simple habit that has effects that cascade into other aspects of an individual’s or a group’s life.

So, a keystone habits might be:

To think of it another way, a keystone habit is the first domino that falls and knocks down all the others with it.

So, a keystone habit in healthy families is having dinner together at home every evening.  That simple practice affects the relationship between the mom and the dad and the kids’ behavior in school and even their reading level.  It’s one domino that falls, knocking over a bunch of others.

A One Word Keystone Habit Guaranteed to Change Your Life

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  (Mark 1:35).  [My emphasis.]


The dawn is my favorite time of day.  Everything seems possible with each new day.  []

“Early” is a word that can change your life.

Early is about intentionally spending the first 15 minutes of your daybefore doing anything else–in silent prayer and scripture reading.

Early is shorthand for a keystone habit that will affect every other part of your life.  Guaranteed.


Don’t Start Your Day Being Reactive

Most of us start our day in this way:

1.  The alarm goes off.  (The cue.)

2.  We pick up our phone and check our email, or our Facebook or Twitter accounts, or turn on our preferred news channel, or check on an overnight sports score.  (The routine.)

3.  We get a hit of dopamine as we feel more connected and assure ourselves we haven’t missed out on anything.  (The reward.)

What’s so problematic about this habit is that it means that we are spending the first minutes of our day in a reactive rather than an active pose.



No Wonder We Are Such Anxious People

Do you really want to spend the first minutes you have every day seeing what someone else had for dinner or hearing another depressing headline about the world or worrying about your boss’s latest request?  Rather than being in control of your day, starting your day by checking headlines or email or social media accounts means you are immediately ceding control to someone or something else.

The Power of the First 15

Now, imagine the alternative.

1.  The alarm goes off.

2.  You get up and settle into your favorite chair or sit at the kitchen table or go on your front porch.  You deliberately cultivate a sense of gratitude at another day of life.  You think over the coming day’s appointments and pray for each of them.  You read a psalm or a portion of a scripture reading plan.  You pray for your family, your colleagues, your city.

3.  You shut your Bible, close your journal, take a deep breath, and start your day.

Can you imagine what could happen if you intentionally started every day like this?

Can you imagine how much more control and how much less anxiety you’d have throughout the day?

Don’t Worry If You’re Not a Morning Person

Everyone has to get up sometime.  Even if you aren’t a morning person, you can still wake up 15 minutes earlier than you would normally.  “Early” means to be deliberate about your first 15 minutes.  It doesn’t really matter when that 15 is.  If you work the night shift, your first 15 could be 4:00 PM.  What matters is that you spend your first 15 minutes in silence and scripture.

Don’t Worry If You’re Not a Religious Person

Even if you don’t believe in prayer or scripture, you can still do this.  Spend the first 15 minutes of your day thinking of all you have to be grateful for.

5 Steps to Life Change

  1. Create a morning routine.  Think deliberately through your cue, your routine, and your reward.  Maybe you need to set the coffee machine to be a part of your First 15.  For me, marking a big fat “X” on a paper calendar is surprisingly satisfying.
  2. Create an evening routine.  You need to prepare the night before for how you’ll spend your First 15 every day.  Lay out your Bible; set out your cereal bowl.  Whatever it is, your morning routine begins with an evening routine.
  3. Plan your time.  Don’t just get up and see what you want to do.  Rather, make a plan to follow a certain reading plan or to pray over a certain list of names or read an online devotional or to deliberately list all the gifts for which you are grateful that day, etc.
  4. Commit for 21 days.  Anyone can commit to the First 15 one day, but that’s not enough for the habit loop to affect your behavior.  Commit for three week no matter what and see what happens.
  5. Evaluate.  What’s working?  What’s not working?  If you are struggling to make the First 15 a habit, then you should reexamine your habit loop.  Is the cue not clear enough?  Is the routine not smooth enough?  Do you need a better reward?

Pushups Over Time

Following a habit once doesn’t make any difference; following a habit for weeks and months and years will change your life.  Doing 20 pushups today is irrelevant; doing 10 pushups a day for 100 days will radically alter your health.

Being deliberate with your First 15 once might not make a big difference, but even 3 weeks of practicing the “early” habit will make you into a different person.

What do you have to lose?

P.S.  Folks in my church are currently following a scripture reading plan called “Eat This Book.”  Today is the first day of a new book–we’re beginning Luke’s Gospel today.  Why not make a chapter of Luke’s Gospel part of your First 15 for the next 3 weeks?

What’s Your One Word for 2014?

Resolutions don’t work.  So, rather than focusing on all the ways we want to live differently in 2014, a little book I read recently suggests we’d be better off focusing on a one word theme for the year and live into it.

What’s your one word?

For 2014, mine is “early.”

I want to:

  • wake up early
  • pray early
  • workout early
  • finish tasks early
  • get to appointments early
  • finish my sermon early (this would be life-changing!)
  • get to bed early

What about you?  Leave comments below.