This past week I’ve been cleaning out some of my old things from my parents' house. One of the things I cleaned was the piano. In the bench there were about 30 books from YEARS of me learning the piano.
It took me back to the memories of…
- me not wanting to practice
- also me wanting to be amazing at the piano
- my mom bribing me with chocolate if I accomplished a certain goal on the piano
All of this got me thinking on how much time and effort it takes to learn a skill, how often I had to practice the piano before my body started playing out of reflex.
There has been quite a bit of scientific research on the difficult task of forming a habit. A study out of London from 2010 showed that on average it took 66 days to form a habit. That’s more than two months. This study did come with a disclaimer though. This is the average amount of time. The time it takes for an individual depends on what habit you’re hoping to form, the person himself, and the circumstances surrounding the situation. It’s all very circumstantial. Even though I played piano for the better part of a decade, carving out time to sit down and practice never felt easy, even as the playing got easier. This shows that people can have varied results.
Habits are all about brain connections. We are training our brain to act a certain way. A study in 2018 found that when we form habits, there is a certain type of neuron that groups together behaviors of a single habitual routine. Take playing the piano, the multiple behaviors that are being grouped together might be:
- sitting down
- opening the book
- positioning my hands
- pressing keys
All of these individual actions are being gathered together in our brains as one group. Our brain is doing a lot of work bringing these smaller actions all together, often making it difficult for habits to form.
A lot of times our prayer life can feel like young Dani not wanting to play the piano. We all want to get to heaven, just like I wanted to be good at piano. We know that we have to pray, to form a relationship with God, but it seems hard. At first it can feel monotonous. It can be like pulling teeth. We make up excuses of all the other things that are more important. My parents can testify to all the ridiculous excuses I made for not practicing. The first little while it might not get easier, it might stay difficult. But if we keep with it, if we keep trying and practicing, it will become easier. It will become second nature to us to talk to God throughout our days.
Unfortunately I haven’t consistently played the piano in about 15 years, other than a Christmas carol or two each December. That doesn’t mean I can never pick it back up again. I was cleaning, so I threw out some of the workbooks that had writing all over them, but I kept a lot of those piano books. I kept them with the intent that I will come back to them some day in the future when I can afford and have room for a piano. Luckily for us prayer doesn’t require any large expensive items. It just requires a heart willing to try. So no matter if it’s been 5 minutes or 5 years since you’ve prayed. It’s always a good time to start. There is never a bad time to begin building this habit.
This blog is being posted on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Lent is a very good time to start a habit of prayer. There are only 6.5 weeks of Lent, not quite the 66 days, but it is a very good place to start. Start small with something that you feel is doable: 10 minutes of prayer each morning, or a rosary every day. If you already pray every day, add something new. This could lead to greater and greater growth. As this past Sunday’s readings said, God is calling us to be holy, for the Lord is holy. (Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18) In order to grow in holiness we must first make the choice to begin. We can make small steps that slowly form into habits, and God will be there to help.