3 Habits To Grow Strong Inside & Out

On a scale from 1 to 10, my need for order is way off the chart — somewhere in the freakish range, so I LOVE systems, schedules, programs, apps and basically any tool that helps me achieve goals and manage a multitude of responsibilities.

Some kinda plan for ALL the things keeps me sane, productive and HAPPY!

… well, to a degree.

Making plans and gettin’ stuff done is one of my strengths, but it can also be one of my greatest weaknesses. When I focus on systems and schedules, individual needs get lost — especially my own.

It’s easy to get off track this way. Our lives depend on systems — from the movement of the planets to my fingers typing these words. We’re trained in them through school, church, work and government. As life grows more complicated, we’re pressured to create more systems to keep up.

But we’re so much more than cogs in a wheel. We have an inner being — a spirit and soul with unique needs that can never be met in a system. In fact, a system is fundamentally soul crushing.

I know I can’t just avoid systems altogether (nor do I want to) but I’m learning to practice 3 habits to keep things in healthy order — to grow strong inside and out.

Habit #1  Be the best student of myself.

When it comes to all areas of personal health and fitness, I’ve often started with being the best student of a system, thinking that if I just find the right one and follow it carefully, I’ll get results. I likely will, but they can be misleading. The ability to follow a system and achieve results proves that I’m a strong machine, but not necessarily a strong and healthy person. If I want to be strong inside and out,  it’s critical for me to start with being the best student of myself — not a system.

I’ve often fallen into the comparison trap because I’ve become a student of someone else’s program or way of thinking and living, forgetting that I’m not them. Their body, heart, mind & soul aren’t identical to mine. Their past and present circumstances are likely to be vastly different than mine. So why would I expect good results from a system that doesn’t address my unique needs — that doesn’t start with a clear, honest assessment of me?

It’s like missing the fine print at the bottom of every fitness infomercial, so I’ll put it here in bold —

 Results vary.  

Because we vary.

So, I use every resource I can to help me better understand myself — all of me — body, heart, mind & soul — past, present & future BEFORE I even attempt to make a plan.

When I’m honest and well-acquainted with the good, bad & ugly of my life, I’m more likely than ever to find and follow a path to wellness that leads to lasting transformation.

Habit #2 Get counsel from people who respect and encourage habit #1.  

Coming to know and understand myself better shouldn’t happen in isolation. I’m not a specialist in everything, so it’s wise to take counsel from others who are experienced in various matters. They give me knowledge to consider in light of my personal circumstances, equipping me to make the best decisions I can — to take action.  They are careful NOT to make decisions or take action for me.

The common thread among people I listen to have a great appreciation for differences, resisting a one-size-fits-all approach to people, health & life. They encourage maturity by not assuming an all-knowing position over others — the place reserved for God alone. People who would step into our lives as authorities on matters they know very little about can be extremely damaging. What is right for one person can be wrong for me and vice versa.

I learn so much from others, but I’m careful to filter it all through my own God-given spirit. HE helps me sort it out, keeping only the things that are beneficial to my growth and strength.

Habit #3 Live flexible.

I understand that there will always be systems and schedules that I must live under that I have little to no say in, and I have a great appreciation for them. I wouldn’t even want to experience a world without order and justice. I’ll always follow systems and schedules in my personal life that help me get things done, but I’m no slave to them. I live as flexible as possible.

I don’t allow myself to be pressured to conform to the systems of others as I once did. There’s plenty of programs that are right and good, but that doesn’t mean every one of them are right and good for me and my family.

Using the knowledge I gain about my needs and the needs of my family, I modify things as needed wherever and whenever it’s in my power to do so. People and relationships and inner health come first, not a system or schedule.

This makes me think of exercise videos where one person is in the back of the group doing a modified version of the moves. That’s a fitting picture for our inner lives too. The person who can modify when they feel the need to may actually be the strongest person of them all since it takes much more than physical strength to know ourselves well (especially our weaknesses) and keep going, regardless of what everyone else may be thinking or doing.

At times, a system may need a lot more than modification — I might need to overhaul it or scrap it and start over. Whatever the case may be, it’s only beneficial to the degree that it actually helps us grow strong as unique individuals in relationship.

Here’s a list, with links of some of my favorite resources for fitness of the body, heart, mind & soul — who all get the importance of starting with YOU, not a system…


  • The Chalene Show Chalene Johnson is probably best known for her work in the fitness world, but she is about so much more! I’ve listened to her podcast long enough to know that she never defines fitness as merely a physical endeavor. She discusses many deeper issues that in turn have an affect on our physical health. Although she’s incredibly successful creating and selling fitness programs, she’s the first to stress the importance of looking at individual needs first. The podcast episode: Your Body Type Effects Your Results is a great place to start!

“You have got to realize you are a very unique individual. You have to be aware of your body and how it reacts to food and exercise, sleep and stress, flexibility — all of those components. YOU have to know YOU better than anyone so that whatever it is that’s prescribed to you, you customize it to make it work for you.” – Chalene Johnson

  • Christy Wright’s Business Boutique Christy Wright has a passion for coaching women to “make money doing what they love.” Even if you have no desire to start a business, Christy and her guests will inspire and encourage you to become all you were created to be, using your unique gifts. A recent, favorite episode is Shake Off Your Shame with guest, Lisa Bevere. They discuss 3 reasons we experience shame and why it’s SO important to consider how this  shapes our thoughts and our lives. Please don’t miss this one — it’s such a great example of how critical inner health is to our total well-being.

  • The Lazy Genius The name of Kendra’s podcast can be kinda misleading until you read her tagline: “Be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don’t”  She mainly tackles the practical things we have to deal with — organization, cooking, cleaning, budgeting, etc… What is so genius about the content she shares is what she ALWAYS leads with –> what matters to YOU. When you start there, the rest just kinda flows. I’ve read a lot of books on these topics, but I’ve never come across anyone as insightful, helpful and freeing on these practical matters as Kendra. A favorite episode is The Lazy Genius Organizes A Home.


  • How We Love by Milan & Kay Yerkovich Many people are unwilling to look at their unique past experiences as children to address present relational problems, but when we don’t we miss the opportunity have healthier relationships for ourselves and our children. The only way we can take practical steps forward for relational health is by having self-knowledge of our mis-steps. The starting place is deep within each of us.

“Each person’s childhood experiences form the roots of who they are; continuing to inform the way that person responds to others or expresses love, even far into adulthood. The result of all these experiences are actually very predictable because people tend to fall into one of five special categories: called ‘Love Styles.’

 “In How We Love, relationship experts Milan and Kay Yerkovich draw on the powerful tool of attachment theory to show how your early life experiences created an “intimacy imprint”–an underlying blueprint that shapes your behavior, beliefs, and expectations of all relationships, especially your marriage.” (source)

  • Boundaries by Henry Cloud & John Townshend This book is among the few that has helped bring about profound change in my life, teaching me that there is no real freedom without boundaries. Too often, we begin drawing lines and putting up fences without really knowing what is our “property”/responsibility and what isn’t.

“Having clear boundaries is essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are not. Boundaries impact all areas of our lives: Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us and under what circumstances — Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts and opinions — Emotional boundaries help us to deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others — Spiritual boundaries help us to distinguish God’s will from our own and give us renewed awe for our Creator — Often, Christians focus so much on being loving and unselfish that they forget their own limits and limitations.” (source)

  • Changes That Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud This book is one that goes hand-in-hand with the previous. It’s a lack of boundaries that result in all kinds of wounds, and so, Henry Cloud lays out a path toward real healing.

“In this ground-breaking book, Dr. Cloud takes the reader step-by-step through the four basic tasks of becoming mature image bearers of God: Bonding to others – Separating from others – Sorting out good and bad in ourselves and others – Becoming an adult — Dr. Cloud not only explains and describes each task, he also identifies the problems that result when we fail to accomplish that task, and he shows us what changes to make in our lives in order to bring about healing.” (source)

  • The Bible This is the most important resource of all to me, and it just so happens that it can be the most misused of all. Many people throughout history (and right up until the present) use God’s Word to control, enslave and destroy others — some intentionally, some not. We’re led astray when God’s plan for life and spiritual freedom becomes a system for us to master, rather than a relationship to be had with Him through Jesus Christ. We should carefully examine how we “use” Christianity — it will either be to control people in a religious system or it will be to have real life and relationship with God and others. No doubt, the words and promises of God are Absolute Truth, however, our individual lives — our relational needs, experiences, wounds, gifts, etc…, are as varied and unique as our DNA. In a system, our souls will only be crushed. So when it comes to our souls — it’s law or grace; it’s a system or it’s a relationship. It can’t be both.

All of these and more have been such a gift to my system-loving self, helping me put first things first — RELATIONSHIPS — that’s what matters most. I understand better than ever that real strength isn’t about what I can do, but who I can be — free and whole — even when I’m broken and weak. God can be God and I can be me.

“…[God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Let me know who and what has helped you!

In life, faith & art ~ Jamie

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