Ash Wednesday and Lent: Holiness is a Habit

Lent - cross with purple cloth

Welcome to Lent…a time to rid ourselves of habits that are doing little good or even causing harm to ourselves and others and to replace them with habits that are life-giving.

Unfortunately, old habits die hard. And contrary to the popular notion that habits can be changed in 21 days, experts tell us that it can take up to a year to change old habits and develop new ones. Lent is 40 days for a reason: holiness is a habit and habits take time to take hold.

In his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg explains that when we perform an action for the first time, the brain works very hard to collect all the pertinent information involved, from start to finish, and to store the information in the part of the brain called the basal ganglia. If we continue to do the same action every day, the basal ganglia fills in the details so the rest of the brain can turn its attention to other things. Eventually, the action can be performed “without thinking.” In short, our brains are looking for ways to save effort, and forming habits is the key to achieving this.

Lent is a time to interrupt this habit loop and, in order to do so, we need to get our brains “thinking” and not just acting on automatic pilot. To do so, we focus on three actions that can be thought of as “keystone habits” – habits which, according to Duhigg, are so key that, when changed, cause a ripple or domino effect in other areas and other habits of our lives. These three keystone habits are, of course, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. When these three keystone habits are practiced, a ripple effect of selflessness occurs: we no longer view ourselves as the center of the universe.

My gift to you this Lent is some tips on how to “jumpstart” the three keystone habits of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These are drawn from my book, Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ.

P.S. Don’t forget to take advantage of these great Lenten resources as well:

About Joe Paprocki 2762 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at

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