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Win the Day

 

By Mark Batterson

Show me your habits, and I’ll show you your future.

Destiny is not a mystery. Destiny is daily habits. You have to make or break the habits that will make or break you. The good news? Almost anyone can accomplish almost anything if they work at it long enough, hard enough and smart enough.

Over the past 25 years, I have led every kind of person imaginable. I’ve led every number on the Enneagram, every letter on the Myers-Briggs, every combination on the StrengthsFinder. I’ve led people you would clone if you could. I’ve led people who are EGR—“extra grace required.” Can I tell you the hardest person I’ve ever had to lead? You know who it is, don’t you. It’s the person who stares back at me in the mirror every morning!

Leadership starts with self-leadership, and self-leadership starts with daily habits. Whatever goal you’re going after, you have to reverse engineer those goals into daily habits. How? You have to 3M the goal by making it measurable, meaningful, and maintainable.

Make it measurable. In 2017, I ran my first marathon. I didn’t just go out and run 26.2 miles. That’s a good way to pull a hamstring! The first thing I did was a download a training plan. I planned the work, then I worked the plan. I did 72 training runs totaling 475 miles over six months. That training plan is what made my goal measurable by turning it into daily habits.

Getting into shape or losing weight are hopes, not habits. You have to make it measurable by counting calories or mapping miles. Once it’s measurable, it’s manageable. One way to do that is by adding timelines and deadlines. It’s how I wrote my first book. I leveraged my 35th birthday as a deadline. I gave myself 40 days to write my first book. When it comes to goal-setting and habit-building, deadlines are lifelines.

Make it meaningful. Running a marathon is one of my life goals, and it ranks pretty high on the list of life goals because I suffered from severe asthma for 40 years. There weren’t 40 days in 40 years that I didn’t have to take my rescue inhaler. I slept with it under my pillow. I played sports with it in my sock. Then I prayed a bold prayer, and God healed my lungs on July 2, 2016. I have not touched an inhaler from that day to this day!

I ran the Chicago marathon to celebrate that miracle. Why Chicago? Yes, it’s one of the flattest marathon courses in the country! But the real reason is that I grew up in Chicago. That’s where I spent quite a few weeks of my life in the intensive care unit. That’s where I was code blue and almost died. The Chicago marathon was my way of proving to myself what’s possible. My training plan made it measurable, the miracle made it meaningful.

How do you make your daily habits meaningful? One of the best ways is to do it for someone else. My dad was a chain smoker before I was born, but he stopped smoking for me! Habit formation isn’t just about you. It’s about the third and fourth generation! It’s about leaving a legacy. It’s about being a blessing.

Make it maintainable. Along with being measurable and meaningful, our habits have to be maintainable. It’s okay to dream big, but you have to start small. Don’t despise the day of small beginnings! If you do little things like they’re big things, God has a way of doing big things like they’re little things.

Want to read the Bible cover-to-cover? Try downloading a daily Bible reading plan. If you devote 15 minutes a day, you’ll get from Genesis to Revelation in a year. Can I make one recommendation? I read my Bible while I drink my morning coffee. It’s called habit stacking. You couple a habit that is hard to maintain with a habit that comes naturally. For the record, the Bible reads even better with caffeine! 

If you want to write a 50,000-word book, try writing 500 words per day. That daily disciple will net a book sooner or later! The same goes for any goal you’re going after. Leadership is long obedience in the same direction. It’s doing the right things day in and day out. You’ve got to win the day, then you’ve got to get up and do it all over again! We have a tendency to overestimate what we can accomplish in a year or two, but we underestimate what God can accomplish in 10 or 20! The only ceiling on your intimacy with God and impact on the world is daily habits.

INSIDE OUT LEADERSHIP

During his 45-year career as a composer, Ludwig van Beethoven wrote 722 symphonies, sonatas and concertos. As you may know, many of those compositions were written after Beethoven had gone deaf. When Beethoven first noticed his hearing loss, he was devastated. Unable to hear the music he made, life felt meaningless. But Beethoven was eventually able to not only adapt to his hearing loss, but also innovate a new sound.

An analysis of Beethoven’s music by the British Medical Journal reveals that high notes accounted for 80 percent of his music in his 20s, but only 20 percent in his 40s. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony ranks as one of his greatest musical achievements, and it starts with a series of low notes that have become iconic—da, da, da dum.

“As his hearing deteriorated,” notes Arthur Brooks, “he was less influenced by the prevailing compositional fashions, and more by the musical structures forming inside his own head.”1 Instead of being influenced by the musical trends of his day, Beethoven trusted his internal voice. He composed out of his convictions.

Are you leading outside in?

Or are you leading inside out?

There is a question I’ve been asking of leaders lately.

What percentage of your thoughts, words and actions are a regurgitation of the media you’re watching and the social media your following? And what percentage is a revelation you’re getting from God’s Word?

We are bombarded by news and fake news all day, every day. Online advertisers use clickbait to compete for our time and attention. Social media algorithms are designed to keep us in our echo chambers. If we aren’t careful, our default settings become opinion polls, and we take our cues from trending hashtags. This is when and where and why leaders need core convictions.

Here are a few of mine.

  1. I want to be famous in my home
  2. Criticize by creating.
  3. Truth is found in the tension of opposites.
  4. Brag about people behind their back.
  5. Never lose a holy curiosity.
  6. Playing it safe is risky.
  7. Live for the applause of nail-scarred hands

STAY HUMBLE AND STAY HUNGRY

We have a core value: if you stay humble and stay hungry, there is no ceiling on what God can do in you or through you. These last few years have humbled lots of leaders! Between the political polarization, the racial tension and the COVID pandemic, all of us are past our pay grade! But this is when leaders lead. This is when leaders stand in the gap as peace-makers, grace-givers and tone-setters. Here are a few more lessons I’ve learned recently.

As a communicator, it’s never enough, and it’s always too much.

Words matter, now more than ever. If you say the wrong thing, it can get you canceled quicker than you can delete the tweet. Of course, Jesus was no stranger to this. The Pharisees were baiting and trolling him nonstop. That reminds me of another conviction: Thou shalt offend Pharisees. One of the most important decisions we make as leaders is who we’re going to offend. You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all the time! 

As a leader, I reserve the right to get smarter later.

At the beginning of the COVID outbreak, I met with an admiral who attends our church. He actually did a stint as Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor to the President. He manages crises day in and day out. His modus operandi? I reserve the right to get smarter, later. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately!

“He who thinks he knows,” says I Corinthians 8:2, “does not yet know as he ought to know.” The more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know. Leadership starts with listening and lots of questions!

As a husband and father, success is when those who know me best respect me most.

Even if your name is Moses, and you come down Mount Sinai with stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God, you should still expect some opposition. It’s the Diffusion of Innovation Bell Curve—16% of people are resisters. That doesn’t make them bad people. Their opposition can actually refine your vision if you take time to listen to them! You may not win them over, but you will win their respect.

I have a simple definition of success: when those who know me best respect me most. That’s my wife and my kids. With all due respect, when I stand before the Judgment Seat someday, you won’t be on it. And neither will I. The fear of people is a snare! If you live off compliments, you will eventually die by criticism. This is a moment to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

In my opinion, cynicism and skepticism seem to be at an all-time high. And some of it is justified because of so many high profiles failures. We’ve let celebrity culture creep into the church, and there is no place for that. When we put people on a pedestal, we are setting them up to disappoint.

FIGHT ONE MORE ROUND

I recently had lunch an 82-year-old friend and pastor. I have a standard question I ask of my elders: What is God saying to you? They usually have a ready answer! Without skipping a beat, my friend quoted the Apostle Paul: “Having done all to stand, stand.”

There is a wear and tear to leadership! Lots of bumps and bruises, and decision fatigue is real. Leadership is hard right now, but you are here for such a time as this. Can I be so bold as to offer an exhortation? Don’t give up the ground you’ve gained. Keep standing on the promises of God. And while you’re at it, enjoy the journey.

On September 7, 1892, a boxer named Gentleman Jim Corbett got into the ring with arguably the greatest boxer of all time. John L. Sullivan was the last heavyweight champion of bare-knuckle boxing and the first heavyweight champion of gloved boxing. In 50 fights, he was undefeated. The only fight Sullivan ever lost was this one! Gentleman Jim Corbett knocked him out in the 21st round, became the Heavyweight Champion of the World and gave the prize money to his church!

Corbett had a motto: Fight one more round.

I think the Apostle Paul would have loved that. I’m not sure if he was a flyweight, featherweight or heavyweight, but Paul said: “I have fought the good fight.” If you feel more tired than usual, don’t be discouraged. This too shall pass! It’s a season. That said, don’t be in such a hurry to get out of your current circumstances that you don’t get anything out of them.

Learn the lesson!

Cultivate the character!

Curate the change!

I’ll let Gentleman Jim Corbett have the last word.

“When your arms are so tired that you can hardly lift your hands to come on guard, fight one more round. When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black and you are so tired that you wish your opponent would crack you one on the jaw and put you to sleep, fight one more round. The man who fights one more round is never whipped.”

 

Footnote:

  1. Arthur C. Brooks, “Your professional decline is coming (much) sooner than you think,” The Atlantic, July 2019.

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