Good Habits: Habits of the Heart

by | Aug 5, 2021

Continuing to Acknowledge and Celebrate the Ignatian Year

“The heart has its reasons of which the mind knows nothing.”
Ignatius of Loyola’s conversion occurred as he became able to interpret the spiritual meaning of his emotional life. The spirituality he developed places great emphasis on the affective life: the use of imagination in prayer, discernment and interpretation of feelings, cultivation of great desires, and generous service. Ignatian spiritual renewal focuses more on the heart than the intellect. It holds that our choices and decisions are often beyond the merely rational or reasonable. Its goal is an eager, generous, wholehearted offer of oneself to God and to his work. 

Good Habits: Habits of the Heart

As we continue to explore the Ignatian year, we look at “good habits.”  I am doing my best to remain in a learner’s stance as it relates to good habits.  Of course, I came across Vanita Hampton Wright again and her words about Habits of the Heart.  What a great title and how well it fits with the life of Ignatius Loyola who shared his thoughts and practices, habits of prayer using his imagination and consistency in his prayer practice.  We have the blueprint for developing and sustaining good habits, or as Vanita writes, to create “Habits of the Heart”.    Her article published in, says that we are “interested in spirituality because, at the heart of things, we want to be transformed…..(by) the practice or information that will help us become the people we truly want to be.  And yet, at the core of true change is a shift in our habits…….Let’s focus instead on the interior habits: habits of the heart.”

What are the Habits of the Heart we have an opportunity to redefine, to leave behind or transform? 

The first one on her list is: “We cultivate habits of assumptions”.  How often driving anywhere, the freeway, in our towns and cities, we encounter that one driver!   The one we assume intentionally would not let us in the lane from an entrance ramp, orthat one person who would not yield at the intersection, or light?  Maybe it was the what if belief, that what if things don’t go well for you or someone you love, or as Vanita Hamptom Wright states might not. Regardless, I want to live a certain way. “If, every day, I remind myself that life does not owe me a good day, then I have established a habit of the heart that will not set me up for regular, if not constant, frustration and disappointment”.

“We can nurture habits of assumption about others: She is judgmental; he’s not really inappropriate, just a jokester. And so on. We nurture assumptions about people, organizations, our own identity. (I am misunderstood. I am unwanted. I am more [spiritual / smart / sensitive] than others). Are you ready for the questions to help you transform the habit of assumption?  The most obvious is “what assumptions do you make about yourself?  I am too heavy, not good enough (at home, at work or within the community.”  What is your initial response when an incident occurs?  That incident response is in your cells, it has been with you a long time.  Do you panic or do you create a plan to manage the situation? 

Next is,We cultivate habits of reaction”These habits form early, in childhood. Have you ever noticed that some families tend toward anger and complaint, and other families focus on making others comfortable and welcome? I believe that every family has its default emotions and reactions. In one family, every emotion somehow comes out as anger: disappointment, fear, anxiety—no matter, it turns into anger. Another family might have practiced the habit of fear for generations.

When you are surprised, or hurt, or worried, or put on the spot, how do you respond? What are your default modes? Is your first response to a situation to identify who is at fault? Is your first response to assume that you, yourself, have messed up again? Do you react to pressure by panicking or by coming up with a plan?”

Another is “We cultivate habits of being”.   “A habit of being is more like a posture you take toward your life, toward God, and toward others. Some of us, thanks to situations and events, have developed a posture of defense. Our foundational habit of being is to protect ourselves. This is totally understandable, given the many wounds and difficult memories that we carry. But eventually we must ask ourselves, Is this really the way I want to situate myself to life and the world—and to God?” 

A transformation of this habit might look like being more receptive and open, searching for new learning opportunities.  Maybe seeking more calm when stressed or a desire to become more engaged at work.

She goes on to ask are we aware of our habits of the heart? Do you want to keep them or do they require an adjustment or transformation? That means you can stop doing something that is not reflective of the life you want or you are currently living or you can choose to respond differently.  You can adjust or transform any habit, maybe become more consistent in journaling with prayer time, learn about centering prayer and trust the practice, perhaps examine a habit of blaming others when things do not go the way you want them to go and find a way to reframe that habit and ask for help from someone you trust to help you notice when that habit shows up.  Having an intention to increase awareness gives space for transformation. 

What would it be like to cultivate a habit of new learning with courage and curiosity?  Ignatius gave us a clear path to explore our relationship with God and through that relationship we are transformed, habits and all.  Allow the Spirit to guide you, maybe that becomes a new habit for you, the habit of Trusting the Spirit.  Ignatius invites you to use your imagination when you immerse yourself in scripture, in prayer and now in Good Habits.