Reflection From Fr. Bill Brown, OMV

Six months ago a friend gave me a great book. What I read inspired me, and I have been trying to practice what I learned ever since.

The book is Atomic Habits by James Clear. In it, he tells the story of the history of British Cycling and how one day in 2003 changed its future forever. Prior to that, the British team had not won a gold medal in the Olympics since 1908 and fared even worse in the Tour De France. In the later event, it had been 110 years since a cyclist won. They were so bad that bike manufacturers refused to sell bikes to the team in the fear it would hurt sales if someone from the British team were using their bikes.

Then they hired Dave Brailsford, who put the team on an entirely new trajectory. His approach was changing the philosophy and what he called “the aggregation of marginal gains.” The idea was to search for a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do.

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them together.”

Dave Brailsford

It worked. During the ten-year span from 2007 to 2017, British cyclists won 178 world championships, sixty-six Olympic or Paralympic gold medals, and captured five Tour De France in what is described as the most successful run in cycling history.

Author James Clear notes that improving 1% is not notable or noticeable at first. However, it is over time. If you can get 1% better each day for one year, you’ll end up 37 times better by the time you’re done.

Developing good habits in the spiritual life is important as well. It is the key to spiritual growth, as well as overcoming discouragement. By identifying the habits we want to foster and areas where we want to grow personally, in our relationship with God and others, we have a greater chance to realize them.

As you’ll read about in our fall newsletter, getting into the habit of things (or returning to a habit that you let go for a time) is something that we can do in different ways. One of the spiritual habits my brother Oblates and I practice is the EXAMEN.

Making the EXAMEN

The EXAMEN is adapted from a technique that is described in The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. St. Ignatius described this as a gift that came directly from God, and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible.

The EXAMEN is one of the few rules of prayer that St. Ignatius required to be made daily. Venerable Lanteri, founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, adopted the same practice for the early Oblates and taught it to those to whom he provided spiritual direction. Today, it’s a spiritual habit that many Christians from all vocations practice.

Personally, the daily EXAMEN helps me to develop good habits to become aware of God’s presence and to notice how I am responding to God’s will in my daily life. It puts the focus on areas where I need, where I want, and where God wants me to grow.

The EXAMEN can be made at the end of the day or in the morning of the following day. I find the later approach to be helpful because I am more aware and alert when reflecting over the previous day. I typically spend between five and fifteen minutes and find it helpful to write things down in a journal when doing the EXAMEN. Writing it down helps me to see more clearly where God is present in my life and illuminates areas where I am growing as well as areas where I have missed the mark.

When we do the EXAMEN consistently over time, we will see “the aggregation of marginal gains” and will develop good habits that lead us to grow in our spiritual and personal life. If you’d like to make it part of your practice, download our instructions on how to make the EXAMEN today.

How to Make the EXAMEN (PDF)

Tiny changes bring remarkable results. That is what good habits do. Where is God inviting you to begin to develop one habit that will bring remarkable results in your relationship with Him and others? What is the one area where God is calling you to grow in holiness, which is to be the best version of yourself?

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