One of my morning rituals is a short set of prayers that ground me in gratitude and open me to the day ahead.
Over the past few weeks, I realized that I had lost connection to this practice. I know the prayers by heart, and they come automatically. Some days, I trail off in the middle, only to realize when I’m mid-workout that I didn’t finish.
Other days, I know I said them but I have no recollection of it.
When Practice Becomes Habit
My morning prayers have become something I started to do on autopilot.
The practice has become a habit.
Some people would say this is a good thing. The general consensus is that habits make us more productive and remove the energy drain of decisions. When something is a habit it means we don’t need to think about it; we just do it.
Of course, that’s what habit is: a behavior (or thought) done unconsciously.
Do Habits Really Serve Us?
But is that really what we want? To just do a thing, without any sense of intention behind it? Without thinking? Without awareness? Without remembering?
I don’t want prayer to be a habit. Yes, I want to remove the decision over whether to do it, but I also want it to be intentional.
Why do anything if I’m not going to remember it? What’s the point?
This raises the question: Why am I doing it? What’s the purpose of prayer? Or, more relevant: what’s my purpose for prayer?
Of course, this isn’t really about prayer. It’s a question we can ask about any action we seek to cultivate as a habit.
What’s the purpose for doing a thing? What’s my purpose for doing it?
And is that purpose served by putting it on autopilot?
Whatever my purpose for saying prayers or doing anything else, that purpose is diminished when I am on autopilot.
Autopilot negates the intention for the act and the meaning that flows from it.
What about removing the decision about whether to do the thing I want to do? In theory that’s a good reason to cultivate automaticity around the action.
Except in practice that’s a function of resolve and rules more than a function of being on autopilot.
I don’t get caught up in a decision about whether to go to the gym, sit for meditation, pray, or write (among other things). I’ve already decided in advance: I will do this, no matter what. Once I create a standard, it’s not up for debate.
What’s the End Game
This all speaks to the bigger question: what’s my ultimate outcome?
The various elements in my routine are merely vehicles to create an intentional life driven by meaning and purpose.
I don’t want to be checked out of life. I want to be checked in.
A life on autopilot is the opposite of a life of meaning and purpose. Prayer without intention isn’t prayer. It’s just saying words.
Regardless of the activity and regardless of my purpose, I’m not meeting that purpose on autopilot.
Anything worth doing is worth doing intentionally.
Otherwise, why do it at all?