Build Those Good Habits

You hope it’s a habit more than it’s a streak, so we’re trying to build those good habits and there’s no reason why you can’t give your best every night. (Claude Julien, the coach of the Boston Bruins on their 14-0-1 win streak through November and early December 2011)

The Boston Bruins won the 2010-2011 NHL Stanley Cup that capped a miraculous run through the last couple weeks of the regular season and the playoffs. The win was so exciting that the guys I watched Game 7 with practically wept and there were fireworks going off all over southern New Hampshire.

But the beginning of the 2011-2012 season was not so good. The Bruins seemed to have fallen apart, and they could not put together wins. They lost seven of their ten games in October and sports analysts were struggling to figure out what happened.

Then, they threw a switch.

The Bruins did not lose a game in regulation through November, and their only loss was in an overtime shootout with the Detroit Red Wings on November 25.

On October 31, the Bruins were 3-7. On November 30, they were 15-8. Their winning ways have continued in December, and last night they wrecked the “best team in the NHL” Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1.

The Bruins went from 8th place in their division to just one point out of 1st. It is one of the most dramatic improvements of any sports team – ever.

Coach Julien refuses to call this a “streak.” He talks about “habits” and strengthening them among the players. To him, great hockey is not about having spurts of greatness. It is about developing strong habits that continue from game to game.

This is what got the hard-hitting Bruins through the playoffs last year against teams that should have beaten them. It is what keeps them moving and steadily improving this year.

Habits.

You can never convince me that greatness is innate, that genius is something genetic. While the capacity for intellect and skill might be genetic, you only rise from gifted to great through developing and maintaining good habits.

I used to have a lot of good habits. I would rise every morning at 5:30am, be on the road walking to the church I was working at by 7:15 and there, ready to go by 7:45. During the day, I disciplined myself to write at certain times of the day, to handle certain tasks in certain ways. I made sure there was time for playing sports with some of the teens and getting in plenty of exercise. I practiced guitar for set periods every day, and my playing continually improved. My eating habits were healthy; I was financially disciplined (which you kind of have to be when you’re making $20,000 a year and trying to support a family); and I was spiritually sharp.

Somehow, after Ariel was born and I became a full-time pastor, I got out of these habits. There are lots of excuses I could give, but the reality is that I fumbled the habits and the good traits that went with them disappeared.

Lately, I have found my diet to be lackluster and my discipline for managing tasks to be inadequate. I spend a lot more time sitting down than I really should. I have developed new habits, and they’re not necessarily the best ones.

Regardless whether it is good or bad, habitual behavior determines your direction and your capacity. You have habits. It is a matter of changing them so they are productive rather than counter productive.

We need to choose whether we want the habits that make us like the 3-7 Bruins of October or the 12-0-1 Bruins of November. The habits we choose to develop and discipline will determine which.

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