Early Habits Build Strong Lives

Reflections on Chapter 59 of the Tao Te Ching:


Half Moon and Sun Eclipse on Morning Sky

Half Moon and Sun Eclipse on Morning Sky

When managing people and serving Heaven,
nothing is better than moderation.

True moderation is based on early habits.
Early habits develop strong virtue.
Strong virtue means you can overcome any difficulties.
Overcoming any difficulties means no limitations.

Without limits one can maintain a nation.
The source of one’s virtue can help nations to endure.

This is called deep roots and a firm foundation –
the path of Tao.

 The Tao Te Ching is so obvious so much of the time.

You think, “I could have told you that…” This chapter is so simple and so true. You really just need to make sure that you are practicing moderation and developing good habits. Good habits are everything. We’ve talked about this in our awareness series. A lot of the awareness posts are about habits and developing the habit of observing yourself. You just need to practice doing the things you think are important so when you are in a situation, you have the skills because you have practiced them. We did this all the time with Tai Chi. We practiced the moves again and again, so if you were ever in a situation you would be ready. Musicians practice all the time so that they can be ready to play at any time and sound fabulous. There is something marvelous about this, but it is really very simple… practice good habits!

This is simple to talk about, not so easy to do!

If you feel that it is important to be honest, practice honesty. Every day. Moderation is about not being too complicated. The truth is very simple. It is our complicated blah, blah, blah – the stuff we put all over the truth-  that makes it complex. The truth is very simple. Be virtuous. Be true. Practice integrity. Practice being aware of how you are living your life. Keep going.

As I am going through these chapters, I struggle to write sometimes because the truth of what the chapter is saying is so simple. Maybe that is why hardly anyone ever comments on the Tao Te Ching chapters in their books! The truth is so simple! Why do you need to add anything to what he is saying?

Lao Tzu is saying to live in moderation and don’t go crazy.

A habit is a lovely thing.  Habits are challenging, and yet I know that they are really important. There is so much that I want to accomplish in this lifetime. It is overwhelming. A lot of times I get into this overwhelm and it is too much. There are too many things. What he is talking about in this chapter is that it is really important not to take on too much. This morning, I was looking around my house at all the stuff and thought that I should just keep a bag handy as I walk through my house and get rid of the stuff that isn’t important anymore. Our stuff is an example of our lives. We have things that aren’t important to us anymore and they take up space. We also collect people and activities that take up our lives and need purging every so often.  I am always looking for ways that I can improve things. One way would be to get rid of the junk – time junk, space junk, people junk.

Habits can be good or bad.

You can have good habits. One of the good habits I have established is flossing my teeth. I am pretty regular with it. I went on a trip last week and ran out of floss, but for the most part I do it every night. I find that if I do it regularly, it is great. It becomes a habit and I don’t have to think about it anymore. Another good habit I have developed this year is going to the gym. My trainer may not say that right now because I haven’t been there in a few weeks, but I try to go to the gym three times a week and my husband and I have been pretty faithful with developing that habit and it is good. When I stopped going, I missed it! But I am back on track now! The key is to just get back on the horse when you fall off it.

Half the stuff you do is habit.

Habits are everywhere. It is all about looking and seeing if these are habits that you want to keep or habits that you want to get rid of. If you create a habit about what you want your life to be… pick something small… moderation! Pick something small and work to build a habit around that thing and it will grow bigger! This blog is a perfect example of that! When I first started this blog, I was scared. I was scared to tell anyone that I was even writing this blog. It was such a big commitment and I was scared of failure. I was scared that I would tell a bunch of people and then quit before I was done and not finish it. For about five months, I wrote on it and didn’t even say anything. No one visited me because I never told anyone it was even there. I had to build that habit of writing. What this blog represents to me is working on myself and really making the commitment to doing that on a regular basis. Spending the time each week looking at myself and looking at my patterns. What am I doing with my life? Am I moving toward the things that really inspire me? Making those things what I really spend my energy on.

So what habits are you trying to get rid of? Does anything come to mind as you read this post? Please feel free to share your thoughts or just say hello. I also appreciate when people share my posts with their friends and families! It helps me to grow my blog. A big THANK YOU to all of you who have been doing this!




  1. The best part was: “time junk, space junk, people junk” loved that!! I find that when I declutter things in my life it opens up a new space with new energy. I am a person that loves ‘routine’ and I have developed several good habits over the past few years, wearing my seatbelt without exception, flossing daily, exercising regularly. For the New Year I’d like to reduce my sugar intake. I’ve gotten into the bad habit of eating a snack at night, usually ice cream. Well, needless to say my hips are beginning to show it. So right now I’m going to get back on that horse and set up some limitations and boundaries and stop listening to that little girl screaming, “But I waaaant it!”
    Julie Geigle recently posted…Metatron’s FamilyMy Profile

    • Oh, I hear you! I have some similar bad habits. I am doing a cleanse right now that has these tablets I have to take on an empty stomach right before bed… it is hard because my stomach is so rarely empty right before bed! So I have to think about it AHEAD of time, develop the habit of NOT SNACKING. That is great, Julia. I will be thinking of you as I tackle my junk.

  2. I’m delighted to have found your blog Amy, and I’m really inspired by your study of the Tao and exploring and integrating that wisdom into your life! As I think about habits and moderation I can see how all the most successful habits I’ve developed have been built on simple moderate shifts that then get built upon over time. Drastic and abrupt pattern alterations don’t have staying power, at least for me. I’ll be carrying the thought with me this week about how it is deep roots and firm foundations result from these consistent, even if small, actions.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Deborah. I agree that the drastic and abrupt changes seem to be fleeting, this energetic pattern is repeated throughout the Tao. The descriptions of common energetic patterns that we recognize as we look more deeply is a big part of what attracts me to this work.

  3. Thank you. I love your blog. Habits are so important. We have been working with our boys on relaxation exercises, so that when they want to charge at one another in anger, as boys will do, in between playing happily as best friends; they have some way to calm themselves. It has been helping me too. Just keeping my voice calm is amazing. Yoga was a lovely habit I had for a while, and I loved how my body felt. But my laptop was broken. Now that my laptop is working, I write early in the morning before everyone is awake. I want to find the balance to do Yoga first, then write, then go feed all the animals and start my day.
    Liesl Garner recently posted…Bendy, Breaky, Twitchy, Torn – Please Circle the WagonsMy Profile

    • Thanks, Liesl. I found reading Loving What Is by Byron Katie is very helpful in dealing with our need to intervene with our children and the people we love. As parents, we feel that it is our job to get in there and help our children learn these important lessons. That is a tough one.

      I love yoga. I just went to my first “hot yoga” class on Saturday. I thought I might be a bit overwhelmed by the heat, but I actually loved its soothing feel on my body. It feels so good to be back into stretching. I have let that go too much lately. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Jim Rohn said something like “it’s easy to develop a good habit, but it’s also easy not to.” I’m guilty of neglect due to laziness concerning stuff that could really make a difference in my life – and those of others. What grabs me more in this chapter, though, is the idea of moderation. It seems good habits turn bad with excess. I see it in people I know (OCD) and have certainly been guilty of chasing too much of a good thing. Perhaps the point is it’s the mindset of moderation that sets the stage for a fulfilling existence?
    Nanette Levin recently posted…Social Media is an oxymoronMy Profile

    • Ha! I think you are so right that many people take their good habits to the extreme – and some even try to get everyone else in their world to join them in their good habits, which of course we usually find annoying and it makes us want to go the other direction.

      I have been doing some decluttering in my house this weekend and coming across pockets of stuff that I forgot about. I was thinking that I should be calling the producers of Hoarders to see if they can come and help me. I am joking about this, it isn’t THAT bad, but it is really opening my eyes to how I hold on to stuff. It is so unconscious. I tuck things away and then live around them for months before I ever look at them again and the whole task of clearing it out is both freeing and exhausting. I keep thinking, “I don’t have time for this”, but then that is what has kept this stuff in my life for so long so I really can’t afford NOT to go through it right now while I am willing.

      Yes, there is definitely more to say on moderation. I am sure that it will come up again, as it often does. I love the circular nature of this work.

  5. I make reading your blog my habit. I find your simple truth speaks to me.

  6. “practice good habits!” Love your post, Amy, that’s so true. in order to achieve our goals we need to create new habits, new routines. now when I’ taking my business to a new level, I’m developing a habit to allocate time for strategic planning and following up new connections.
    I’m not getting rid of specific habits I prefer to replace bad habits with useful ones then there is no space for bad ones 🙂
    Inga Deksne recently posted…Embrace your weaknesses to become more productiveMy Profile

    • Good luck with your new business venture, Inga. Just being conscious of your habits can help you a lot. I find your last comment intriguing. I wonder if there is a finite space for habits in our lives? lol… I think you are right that we should leave some space for bad habits. Like anything, the bad is a necessary part of life. We should get in the “habit” of making room for the bad as well as the good.

  7. Practice. Good. Habits. For myself I need to add one more word–‘consistantly’. It seems easy for me to begin a new habit, but maintaining that good habit is another thing entirely.

    I think I’ll make a few signs ‘Practice good habits consistantly’ and place them around my space as reminders. One on the refrigerator as a gentle reminder. One on the bathroom mirror. One on the computer monitor.

    Thank you for the reminder. xo
    Susan recently posted…Herding DucksMy Profile

    • A big yes, Susan! Consistency is the backbone of all personal work and most especially of the work we do on our daily habits! I love that you are making signs. I am so inspired by you, Susan!

  8. I’m a lot like you, there’s just so much that I want to accomplish in this lifetime and it causes me often to feel overwhelmed. I can’t stick to the same thing for long that I’m off to the next thing. I was also terrified when I started blogging to tell anyone, but I took that huge leap of faith and announced it right away on Facebook that I had a website/blog. Then I thought ‘what have I done? what if I can’t stick to it? what will they think of me?’. It’s 7+ months later and I’m still here. But there are times when I have taken on too much blogged about all that I was doing to no sooner hit the publish button that reality set in and I had to re-prioritize everything and let go of most of what I had just shared that I was doing. But I needed to go to that extreme before I would listen I guess.

    I don’t buy as much stuff mindlessly as I used to. But I would still love to do a major de-cluttering of closets and cupboards and lighten the load in our home. And to the extreme I have thought with my sister next year that we could walk the Camino de Santiago almost 800 miles with the bare minimum in a backpack, something like 10 lbs only for 4-6 weeks. Can you imagine that. Just the other day someone mentioned a 10-day silent meditation retreat to me and I felt pulled to do that… again everything you bring with you has to be left locked up until you leave on day 11. You are allowed only your clothes, no computer, iPad, phone, journal, book, paper, pen, nothing… and you meditate for 11.5 hours a day in chunks of time. I don’t know if I’m looking for something drastic to shift things for me that is what I seem to be picking up as I write this. Maybe I need to start with my closets right now. lol
    Suzanne McRae recently posted…Year in Review – my most popular blog posts in 2012My Profile

    • Wow, Suzanne. We have so much in common. Everything you mentioned here are things I have on my own bucket list! In 2014, me and my three sisters (I don’t have any brothers) are going for a four day backpacking camping trip. This is not your everyday adventure. We are all middle-aged moms who are not in the best shape of our lives. I saw the movie, The Way, which I may have mentioned in one of my posts, which was so inspiring and was recommended to me by my sister who inspired our adventure walk.

      My husband and I have discussed doing a long silence retreat. We’ve done a day here and there and I am frankly not that good at it. We are looking to buy some land in the next few years and when we do that, one of our goals is to have a little spare building out in the woods for the silence retreats.

      I really appreciate your sharing these things. It is so fun to find out these fun things we have in common.

  9. I soooo wish that good habits were easier than they seem to be. I’ve even developed a few great habits and fully enjoyed having them in my life for a year or more and then, for some reason, let them go and returned to negative habits that I thought I’d completely gotten rid of! It’s so important to look at a derailment as temporary rather than allow it to completely leave the track, never to return.
    Michele Bergh recently posted…8 Tips for Gaining Facebook LikesMy Profile

    • I wish bad habits would just go away too, Michele. I’ve done the same thing and am willing to bet that everyone has. Not sure why it is that way, but it is nearly guaranteed that it will happen. Years ago, I decided that I would always go back to those good habits and that it never mattered how long it was that I had strayed (because that is in the past). I think that this area alone was my major cause of self-abuse. I really try these days to not worry about where I have fallen. The key is to focus on getting back up. I have also found it extremely helpful to tie a new habit to an old one. For example, I am trying to remember to take these tablets each night for liver cleansing so I tied them to my flossing. Each time I grab the floss, I go and stand by the tablets so that I will remember to take them right after. This little trick works for lots of things.

      I am also really trying to watch my everyday language. This can cause me to be a bit neurotic at times, but it is a great tool for checking in with myself and seeing how I am talking about the events in my life. If I am getting into the negative, and getting negative results, this is not surprising. This happens sometimes. I also try and watch my language for how I am standing. Am I standing powerfully or am I talking like I am weak and unsure of myself? This is one that I have been really working on this year. I had a bad habit of apologizing for things that weren’t about me. Then one day I saw the reverse of it in someone else and a lightbulb went off. I wouldn’t say that I have stopped apologizing, but I have tried to consider whether or not it is something that was my fault before apologizing. Over apologizing comes across as a weakness and I wanted to shift that habit. This work has taught me so much about the responsibility of caring for myself. My self-care is important, not just for my own well-being, but as a model for the world around me. That changes things. It isn’t just about me anymore. It is about caring for others by providing good models, as best as I can.

  10. Amy,
    It seems so simple this thing “habit”, so why do we struggle with it so much, both the good and bad? I have to admit I am terrible at good habits, so much so I even have a hard time remembering to take my medication. Or maybe I should re-phase that. I am just not regular with the good things I do. Does that sound better?
    I have been working hard at keeping up with my blog but over the past few weeks, life has gotten busy and I’ve just run out of time. And I’ve now been catching up on reading everyone’s blog.
    So, I will just keep trying and working at a small thing one at a time!!

    • Yes, I actually visited your blog today and I was realizing that I had already commented on the post. Good to have you back. In answer to your question, I think we all struggle with habits – both good and bad. We can’t seem to get enough of the good and we can’t bear to admit the bad. It is so much a part of our human experience and I think that learning to live comfortably with both of them is part of life’s little challenge. I think trusting yourself is key. Trust that you are able to overcome whatever it is that is holding you back. Trust that the Universe is designed perfectly. I can tell this because here you are and you are getting back on your horse with your blog. Good luck. See you in blogland.

  11. Hi Amy!

    I have been reading your blog every day since Jun 11. I use to read one chapter each day and meditate on it through the day. Even I like it so much I never left any comment exactly because what you wrote today. I normally think, all this teachings is so obvious. I always think, why we don’t get as easy as it is?
    Today I felt compelled to leave a comment here to thank you for doing this reflection and share with us. Another thing is that I just found out that we have another thing in common. Because, I have been working on to write my blog too and I feel the same way you felt. I wouldn’t say that I’m scared about to publish it. But I am really overwhelmed about to make it perfect before I launch it.

    Again, thank you for your reflections and keep working on yourself we need more people like you.

    By the way, excuse my English because I am from Brazil and I am still learning your language.

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