Episode 3: Justin Whitmel Earley on how we become our habits and our kids become us
Watch the Conversation
Justin Whitmel Earley (00:02):
This idea of the right word at the right time can make all the difference. Um, I think there's a great Mark Twain quote about the, the difference between the right and the almost right word is the difference between, um, the lightning bug and the lightning <laugh>. So it's just like when you get the right word at the right time, it's, it's like lightning. It, it works. Um, the world changes. Morr. J Adler, once, once wrote that to say what you mean is one of the hardest things in the world. And I just love this area of life of trying to communicate the right thing at the right time because words change people. And I love that mission of words.
Joey Odom (00:40):
Welcome back to the Aro podcast. It's your good friend Joey Odom, and you are going to absolutely love the conversation that I just had with Justin Whitmel Early. Justin is an author. He's written three books, the third of which is coming out in August of this year. The first two were centered around habits. The first one kind of personal habits called the Common Rule. The second one was around Habits in the Home, and that is called Appropriately Habits of the Household. His third book in August is called Made for People and it's all about loneliness and friendship. And we had a doozy of a conversation. We talked about what led him into this experience of writing books and the habits he was in a very, very dark place that he'll talk about and how habits pulled him out of that. And we had a moment there right in the middle that you're gonna love when he talks about his wife Lauren, and how she believed in a better future that he didn't see at the time, and how that brought him out of it.
It is a, a beautiful, beautiful moment. And then he goes into his new book, the Third Book, made for People, and it's a really powerful conversation. I'm actually a little bit annoyed we didn't have enough time. We could have gone for another hour. So we are gonna have Justin back later this year. And please just sit back, enjoy this great conversation in the wisdom of my friend Justin Earley. Oh buddy. Today we actually have five guests. One is an English Lit graduate from the University of Virginia. The second was a missionary in China for four years. <laugh> the third is a graduate from Georgetown Law who currently practices law and mergers and acquisitions. The fourth is an accomplished author of two award-winning books with a third set to launch this year. And the fifth is a devoted husband and father of four boys. Lucky for you listener. All four, all five. Excuse me if these people are wrapped up in one Super power human, my friend Justin Whitmel early. What is up bro?
Justin Whitmel Earley (02:44):
You doing Joey? That is my favorite podcast introduction I've gotten so far. It makes me feel as about as schizophrenic as I am. <laugh>. So that's good.
Joey Odom (02:53):
<laugh>, that should make you feel like that. That's a good way to like, I guess you could look at it as as a superhuman or as just a, as split personalities. So that's, uh, that is a good point. Maybe that's,
Justin Whitmel Earley (03:01):
Maybe that's I'll Yeah. I'll let the listeners take whichever direction they want with that You judge in an hour, you know,
Joey Odom (03:06):
<laugh>. That's exactly right. Absolutely. Um, man, I would, I would love to, I I just described as I was, you know, we know each other, but as I was looking into your background, I thought, wait, how does, how does an English lit grad go to China to be a missionary to to law school? To then writing about, man, will you give us a little breakdown and help us, help us set the, the schizophrenia straight here,
Justin Whitmel Earley (03:28):
That's Yeah, sure, sure, sure. Yeah, it makes sense to me. Let's find out if it makes sense to other people. <laugh>. So I, I graduated from the University of Virginia back in 2006, um, as a man who had fallen in love with the written word. So I, I started as a political science major cuz my dad was in politics when I was in high school. And, um, I quickly find out like there was, there was no heart in that I should have chosen political theory in retrospect, but I just fell in love with my English literature classes. I fell in love with the power of writing to change people's, like heart, hearts and minds, the way that, you know, I was reading stories and poems that were just moving the needle deep inside me. So I left college and was a missionary in China, but the whole time I was really into how speaking and how writing could change people.
So I was, I was always doing freelance writing, a lot of creative writing in China, um, even while I was a missionary, you know, and using words to try to change people's lives in that way too. So a and then, and then I like had this experience on the streets of China about four years into my time in China, where I saw in one five minute encounter on the streets of Shanghai, I saw a black market thief. I was approached by a drug dealer. I passed four or five open brothels, and I saw, and this was the one and only time this happened in China, a political protestor. And as you might imagine, out of the black market thief, the drug dealing, the prostitution and the political protesting. One of these I watched be arrested right in front of my eyes, <laugh>. Um, I actually like, was right there.
I was talking to the cops saying like, Hey, don't, you know, don't do this. And, um, that experience where I saw really four people trying to make a living and do what they thought needed to be done, th you know, three of them, you know, were illegal, but great ways to make money. The fourth way the political protesting was illegal, but it was not a good way to make money. It was actually a great way to get arrested. And I left, I left that moment with this feeling of, oh my gosh, the law changes human outcomes. Like how we set up our systems of law and economics really matter. And, you know, as somebody who, you know, was a missionary and wanted to see the world changed, I was like, that's a way to have real influence. So I got really interested from that moment on about learning about law.
And, um, some people thought this was a huge jump appropriately to, you know, go from being like a creative writing missionary guy in China to being a corporate business lawyer. Which, which I am now, by the way, like this podcast is happening in the middle of the day where I've got client calls on either side of it, right, <laugh>. Um, but to me it's still, lawyering is a vocation of words. You know, I'm writing and negotiating contracts and, um, I'm still living by the power of words to change people and change realities. So like when we close a deal to, you know, buy a business and we'd say, ladies and gentlemen, we're closed. Like, something happens. Um, and you know, we, we use, we try to choose the right words to get to the right place in the negotiation and close a deal. So to me it's like, it's all about words. I I feel like my life call is using words on purpose and using them well. So I like to write, I like the lawyer.
Joey Odom (06:56):
My my son, my 14 year old told me the other day he had read this, I, if he would've come up with this, I'd have been very impressed. He goes, dad, you know, the, the dictionary, or I'm sorry, every, everything people say is just a remix of the dictionary. That's all it is. It's just all, it's just all a remix. And so, and so it's, it is funny this whole concept of, of reordering words in the effect that that can have on the order that you place them in. It's, it's such a silly concept to say, but it's such an interesting thing. And, and when you said, you know, you're talking about lawyering, lawyer lawyering is a vocation of words. That's so true because you think of the law in terms of black and white, but there is a level of persuasion to, to get people to believe whatever shade of gray of, of the law there is, right? Oh yeah. Does that make
Justin Whitmel Earley (07:42):
Sense? Almost all of the law that matters is a world of gray. And, and you know, I'm in the realm of business law where we're usually not fighting about something that's gone wrong in court. We're usually yeah, in the boardroom negotiating about a deal to be made. So it's a fun and encouraging side of law to be in. But nonetheless, like this idea of the right word at the right time can make all the difference. Um, I think there's a great Mark Twain quote about the, the difference between the right and the almost right word is the difference between, um, the lightning bug and the lightning <laugh> <laugh>. So it's just like when you get the right word at the right time, it's, it's like lightning. It works. Um, the world changes. Morr. J Adler once, once wrote that to say, what you mean is one of the hardest things in the world. And I just love this area of life of trying to communicate the right thing at the right time because words change people. And I love that mission of words.
Joey Odom (08:38):
And so that, that's a natural, you know, a natural evolution into writing a book, which your first one common rule came out in in 2019. In in the, by the way, the, the, the, uh, the subtitle for that is Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction. So what I want to hear about that idea sparked and then how it developed in your brain into the place where it could, it would become words. And then, and then why would you, I think that undertaking of writing a book, I'm always fascinated by that because it's, it's a couple of things. One of them, it's just, it's such a labor, it's such a difficult thing and you have this thing inside of you and then you finally get it done. And then to me, the next part of it is, and this is someone who's n not written a book saying this is, it's such a vulnerable act to put it out to the world and say, here's here are my deepest thoughts of things I've wor the thing I've worked hardest on in probably my whole life. And I hope you don't make fun of it. Right, <laugh>,
Justin Whitmel Earley (09:37):
That's all true. That is all true.
Joey Odom (09:39):
So walk, walk me through that. I mean, how, again, like from from concept to work to release, I, I would love to hear all about that entire process.
Justin Whitmel Earley (09:50):
Yeah, absolutely. Well, so this adds Keller to the schizophrenic side of the story, right? So cuz cuz this came, this book came out of crisis really. So my second book did too, but we'll get there when we get there. I came back from China, um, as I mentioned with this sort of newfound interest in law and you know, being a guy who u had, you know, form a missionary, I ran at the law with all the fervor of a man on a call <laugh>. So I just dove into law school trying to, you know, graduate at around the top of my class, do really well, trying to, you know, be excellent. And in a lot of ways that worked. I graduated, you know, with honors from Georgetown Law. I, I did really well. I got a job at the top, like I had my pick of, you know, big law firms that got a job at, in an international mergers and acquisitions practice in an international law firm here in Richmond, Virginia.
So I was riding really high at the end of law school. And my first year of luring I had my first two sons during law school, which wow, don't necessarily recommend two children <laugh> during the three years of law school. But I would say, you know, my life was going great except for the fact that like all the other top law school students that I was around, I mean, my life was a wreck of busyness. Like it was working, it was producing some right results, at least at the time. But I mean, I was just constant string of rings and dings and beeps and alerts and calendar notifications and staying up later and waking up earlier and always adding more to the schedule because of course that's how you be a, you know, a young aspiring lawyer. Or at least I thought what actually happened is, is it worked up until my first year of practice and then I absolutely crashed and burned really early in life during my first year of lawyering, which is, can be, it was pretty gruesome story, honestly.
I mean I j the, the short version is that I started waking up in the middle of the night with what I now know are panic attacks, but I didn't know at the time what it was. I just, that suddenly I couldn't sleep. There was a night where for like 48 hours I wasn't able to sleep. And I finally went to the emergency room, the doctor tells me what's probably now like the most anti-climactic moment of my life that <laugh> nothing was really wrong, I was just suffering from clinical anxiety. And I'm like, what, that sounds really wrong to me, <laugh>. And he gave me some sleeping pills and sent me home and I reacted to the sleeping pills the way that you read on the back of the bottles, which is, as you know, anybody who just read those things is like some awful things can happen. <laugh>
And I, my <laugh> I say it with levity cuz otherwise it was, it was really dark. Um, wow. I like, I started having the hallucinogenic nightmares, um, wow. Huge daytime mood swings and even suicidal thoughts actually for a short span. So I got off those meds, but the reason I sort of like tell that story is because I was suddenly in one of the darkest, actually the darkest place I've ever been in my life. And that was that, you know, I was the former missionary who had graduated the top of his class and like had the dream job and two sons and a wonderful wife. And yet in my first year of practicing law, I had been, the missionary had been converted to the nervous medicating lawyer who like couldn't sleep unless he like had two or three glasses of wine. Wow. And I was suddenly was like, how did this happen?
Like, I went into the law to try to change the world for the better. And as it turns out, the law changed me for the worst. And really quickly, wow, how did this happen? And it, it was a long, long year to dig out of that hole. Luckily I had some close friends and my wife who like knew everything that was happening who like patient with me walked beside me. But what ended up happening was that over the course of the, the year and, and thinking about this and working through this with friends, I started to realize that I had been converted to the nervous medicating lawyer by habit. But by acting out these patterns of anxiety and busyness, it didn't really matter what I told myself in my head about how I was grateful for life. And actually happy at the core of it.
It didn't really matter about what I thought in my heart of like, I'm good. Like I don't need to excel in this profession and be the best in the world. Like, you know, my identity is secure at after a certain amount of time. Like you become what you act like. And I realized my mind and body and soul were sort of converted to the anxiety and busyness that my habits and routines were worshiping. And that really was eye-opening to me when I realized that little habits that you don't think all that much about, in fact almost like subconscious to unconscious conform your heart and mind in such an extraordinary way, I started to realize, well one that's really dangerous, so I gotta reform my habits so that they match up with my heart and head. But two, it's actually really powerful too because if your little habits lead your life in such big ways, what if you pick 'em on purpose? <laugh>.
Wow. Like what if you choose them intentionally? You know, as a man in crisis, I started reforming my habits big time. I started saying I wasn't gonna look at my phone in the morning until after I'd spent some time reading something that I was gonna turn my phone off for an hour a day. That I was actually gonna take one true day off a week and actually unplug from work that I was gonna have a communal meal every day and I could go on, right? And I'd start to overwhelm you with all the little habits that I took on. But what I found was that my life started to drastically change. Like what, what I thought were like, way too habits that were way too small to matter. They, they drastically started to change my life.
Joey Odom (15:32):
When did you, how quickly did you start seeing that change? I'm curious
Justin Whitmel Earley (15:36):
Actually really quickly. Really what, what happened was one new Year's, it was a year and three months after the collapse I told you about. So it, it was like a long year and three months. I sat down around New Year's with my two best friends, Steve and Matt and I put this like journal on the table that had some of these habits in it. And I was like at a, on a last ditch effort just to try to find something that helped. But I was like, guys, I want you to keep me accountable to these rhythms because as you know, like I'm going haywire and like, this is not good, this is dangerous. This could lead to really dark places. So, you know, they were, they would said, you know, they'd keep me accountable, but I didn't think any of this, this stuff was gonna matter, Joey.
Cuz I, at the time, I really had no idea how much the smallest and most ordinary patterns of our days, particularly with technology, actually impact our souls in the most extraordinary ways. But what I found was within a month of practicing these small healthy rhythms, my little body and anxiety and sleep began to really change. And I'm not saying it's like it was a pill that made everything go away, but I really did notice immediately my life started to change and it, and it just started to drastically change from there. And, and you know, some eight years later, you know, sitting, talking to you on a podcast like not primarily as the guy who wrote a book about these habits, primarily as a guy who slept like a baby last night, who has more obligations now than I did then, but live with a sense of like joy and enduring purpose. I mean, I'm nothing like that person who collapsed in one sense, and yet I'm still everything like him in the sense that if I didn't still live by these habits, like I just like the rest of Americans can easily go back there. That's the current of American life. You're gonna become crazy unless you pay really careful attention to your habits, particularly your habits of technology.
Joey Odom (17:21):
That's so interesting because it's, uh, I've found as I've have, as I have gotten into very good rhythms with my phone and when my phone is away, I'm, I'm, I'm ultra present. I'm, I'm locked in with whomever I'm with and I've also, and and it's almost like a discouraging thing cuz I've found that when my phone's with me, I can, I turn, I revert immediately back into the person who stops mid-sentence in a conversation with his daughter to look at his phone. I mean, literally I interrupt myself. Well look at, right. And so it's, it's, it's, it's that it's, and it's this concept and it probably goes back to I know all the, the AA and stuff like that, that it always begins with knowing like who you are. It's like knowing the, you're an addict, like forever a you're an addict. And so I'm right. I'm not, I'm not likening, you know, any of this to necessarily be an, an addict, but I am likening it to this recognition of a dependency on the good things and knowing that you'll just revert right back to it if you don't have that structure within your
Justin Whitmel Earley (18:14):
Life. Yes. Yeah. I like to refer to it as living on a tilt or living in a current, you can take whatever me metaphor you want, but the the point is, if you do nothing, you'll end up where we are as Americans. You'll end up as an anxious, depressed, consumerist, overwhelmed, tired person who lacks presence. Yeah. Like that is where the current is going. And we're fools to think we won't become that unless we swim really hard in the opposite direction. Yeah. So I, I think, uh, you know, <laugh>, it's simultaneously encouraging to know that you can swim against the current, but it should be sobering to know that, you know, we're all bodies that drift. And doing nothing means that you're doing something really significant and that means you're moving towards that despair. So you gotta swim.
Joey Odom (19:00):
How, how does this apply to how this, this may be a bit of an odd question. How does this apply to people who may not, who may really be in a dire circumstances, you know, thinking about a single mom of three kids or something like that. Are there, do you think there's, there's hope for somebody like that who really is living in, in, in ultra despair and those, do you think those, the small power of habits still can apply to somebody even with like really tough circumstances? Does that make sense?
Justin Whitmel Earley (19:28):
Yeah, I, I mean I absolutely think so. I can't speak from like a, you know, single mother of three. Sure. Like, fortunately my wife and I have always been on a team with this, but I can speak as a man who like reached what I know as my rock bottom and was struggling with very, very dark thoughts and was not, you know, I I was in, in a dark place of crisis. So just speaking from, from that, I would say it's almost the most important when you find yourself in a circumstance where you're like, my gosh, this is really bad. My, my advice to people in that circumstances to start carefully considering what small habits might be, the guardrail between the road you're on and truly falling off the road. Yeah. And I'm not saying like, you gotta take on, you know, eight new things to get your best life. Now I'm not even saying it's easy at all. I'm just saying do nothing and you'll drive off the road, but doing something as possible. Hmm. So that would be my encouragement. Like do you can actually change your habits no matter where you are. And in fact, the more crisis you're in, the more urgent it is to think about, what's that one thing I need to change to just start to move back towards the center of the road?
Joey Odom (20:46):
I love that. So this was eight years ago. The book came out four years ago, so there was a gap in time. I'm, I'm curious as your, and, and a lot of families will listen here, and so your wife, I'm, I'm guessing you and I have not talked in depth about this, but your, your wife had to have some damage from that, had to have some collateral damage of, of not only probably being on the other side of you, um, but also just watching you go through that, what was that restoration and, and was there a restoration? Did it require a restoration? What was that like?
Justin Whitmel Earley (21:18):
Joey Odom (21:19):
I didn't mean to, I mean, too,
Justin Whitmel Earley (21:21):
Too hard trying to get emotional here. Um, Lauren, my wife was an incredible lifeline during that point because when I was in, at my worst, she continued to believe in a different future for me. And, um, emotional, but in a good way. I, the power of her staying beside me and saying, I don't believe that you're headed down this path, even though that's the only thing that you can imagine right now. I believe in a different person. The one that I know that I married, the one that I know you can become her standing beside me and insisting that there was a different future that was possible was one of the most tangible and powerful graces that I've ever seen from another person. So she certainly, um, deserves a lot of credit because it's not like with two young children and a husband and like a busy new law career.
She was living a dandy life, you know, she was overwhelmed too. And we often joke now we've been married just over 15 years, it seems like we trade crises. Like, you know, she's had her seasons and I've had mine. But I'll say that just having somebody beside me that time who was present with me and believed in a future that I could not believe in, was an incredible combination. And, um, I do think that's the power of a spouse or a friend to offer you to just to be present and walk with somebody. She never tried to convince me that it wasn't bad. She just tried to convince me that the end that I was assured that I would come to was not the end that I was gonna come to. Thank God she was right. <laugh>.
Joey Odom (23:14):
Well, it it's almost self-fulfilling when you, you you hear those words and her saying, no, there's a different future here. There's a different, there's a different version of you on the other side of that I think about with my kids. And you think about when they're in the thick of it. I said, I hope she wouldn't mind me saying this, but I said, I told my daughter, I've just noticed in my daughter that she's, she's, she's finding her voice. She's, she's 12. We just moved to a new city. And I just said it. I told her the day, I said, honey, you're just, you're finding your voice. I can see you stepping into that. And she didn't say much about it. And my wife told me a couple days later, they were talking and she was asking how school was going. She's like, I don't know.
She's like, you know, dad said it seemed like I was finding my voice. I really feel like things are going great. And just that belief that you can project onto somebody else of the reality of what's in from their perspective, what's happening there. That is, that is unbelievable. I mean, for Lauren to have done that, for you to pull you outta that and think about that, dude, you got three books on the other side of her belief. <laugh>. Right. That's a really good point. Look at that. What if, what if she wouldn't have? What if she would've, what if she would've beat you down? What if, what if she, what if she would've even absorbed the same belief in yourself that you had instead it was, it was different. That's that's amazing.
Justin Whitmel Earley (24:31):
It is. Dang, I appreciate you naming that. I mean, I just, uh, and honestly, Joey, in a sense, I haven't even thought about it that way. And it's a moment worth pausing for and saying, yeah, that's the power of somebody who stays present with you.
Joey Odom (24:45):
That's a, I mean, we could stop right there and just, it, it just makes me wanna speak words of life over my kids, over my wife. And in, in the same way, just let them know what you see. And it's, and it's worth verbalizing and I love it. You, you do say this, uh, a lot and I love it, is just naming something. And that's, that's something even if you stop the podcast now, that's, there's there's real power in how you name something. Yes. And you think about back all the way, you know, the, the, the account of Genesis, the naming, the, you know, that was the job you named. They got, they had an opportunity to name, you know, everything in the garden. That's, um, there's very, there's real power in naming something.
Justin Whitmel Earley (25:22):
Yeah. Yeah. I, I it's, it brings full circle the, you know, the, what we started with, you know, the belief that that words matter. I just, the words, uh, in the mouth of a parent, in the mouth of a spouse or in the mouth of a friend, um, who, who's with you and present with you and say, I believe this. It's, it has an incredible power to pull us forward and we need that. It creates new realities. So yeah,
Joey Odom (25:47):
Justin Whitmel Earley (25:47):
He adheres to the power of words.
Joey Odom (25:50):
Oh, no kidding. Um, I'm curious at the, what would you amend? So it's been four years since it's come out and, and I would encourage everybody to go to go by the common rule. It is wonderful. What, what are there, is there anything you would amend in that, since you've written it, you've grown some more, we've gone through covid since there's been a lot. Is there anything in that that you would say, gosh, I wish I could, wish I could update this with a couple different things?
Justin Whitmel Earley (26:11):
Yeah, actually, so just to summarize in the book, I give four daily habits and four weekly habits. And they were all kind of just specific to my life at that moment. I mean, I thought a lot about them and I, I, being a lawyer prone to research now, researched a lot. So I was trying to pick what are called keystone habits. You know, small things that change, lots of other things like, you know, the first domino in a rally and the daily habits were the, some of the things I mentioned, like a daily communal meal, not looking at my phone before I spent some time reading something, turn my phone off for an hour every day, preying on my knees three times a day. So adopting like a physical posture that, and then the weekly habits were resting one day a week, you know, the i e Sabbath thing, um, curating my media intake, having a vulnerable conversation with a friend. And what was the, I went in reverse order. That's the first time I've tried to summarize the habits and I've actually forgotten why <laugh> Wait. But this
Joey Odom (27:08):
Was on the, so the weekly habits were one
Justin Whitmel Earley (27:10):
Hour. It was fa it was fasting, fasting from something one day. It was 24 hours one. So in retrospect, I still live by and large by all of these. I think of the media habit a little differently now. I used to think of it as the, the best way to get our life of technology and media under control was to constrain our time limits. So I suggested like a, you know, four hours a week, like fill with content podcasts or movies and then for the rest of the hours be off. And I know, I don't know any longer think that time is the best way to curate content. I now think a lot more in terms of spaces, huh. So just sort of like, you know, when I'm in the car with the kids, it's time for conversation or music. It's not time for like YouTube videos in the back while I zone out and like text at stop lights <laugh>.
Um, or I think like in our living room, it's not, our family has chosen like the fireplace over the, the TV in the living room. So that we're just like nudged towards interaction. I think in, I still hold that habit of turning my phone off for an hour a day. But ever since I met you all and like found out about the Aro box and I'm like having, again, the nudge to just put my phone in that space has been far more powerful for me than just turning it off an hour a day because it, it just bleeds over into more spaces. Like, I always kind of want to put my phone there much more than an hour a day. And so I think about spaces as more as a more tangible way to nudge us in the right direction rather than time tracking, which for most people is kind of neurotic and difficult, understandably.
And then I also think about exercise really differently now. I, I probably would've replaced the fasting habit with exercise. I think fasting is a extremely valuable discipline for the modern world because there is nowhere in our life that people are like practice restraint on a regular basis. You know, <laugh> everywhere in our life is an opposite message of, you know, have what you want, more of what you want when you want it, you know, quick and easy swipe for it, it'll be running your doorstep. But exercise is the one place where actually you see these themes come in positively. Like, you know, you should actually hurt yourself in order to make yourself better, or you should deny yourself comfort. Like run through the pain or lift through the pain or hold that stretch a little longer. So exercise is one of the, where I think the, the discipline of suffering is acknowledged. And um, that in, in fasting and exercise have a lot of overlap in that sense where we're trying to voluntarily enter into suffering in a bodily form because we believe it's better for our heart, minds and soul. And so, and I think exercising is more practical for lots of people than fasting. So I I might bring that in too, but those are, those are the two things I would change in retrospect. Yeah, that's
Joey Odom (30:10):
Aro Team Member (30:12):
We hope you're enjoying the show. Let's take a quick moment to hear from one of our members about how Aro is impacting their life.
Aro Member (30:19):
I would see my husband tuck his phone into the box. It was like that was an automatic cue for me to do the same thing. Even though he didn't say, I'm gonna put my my phone in the Aro let's have quality time together. It was almost like this, um, quiet suggestion that prompted me to do the same thing as a result of that we were both phoneless and that just led to quality time. And it's interesting because I noticed our oldest son doing the same thing without us asking or suggesting to him that he should do the same. I would see him walk over and put his phone in totally, um, unprompted by us
Joey Odom (31:02):
When habits the household came out. So, so the subtext on habits of the household is practicing the story of God and everyday family rhythms. There's certainly overlap cuz they're, you know, we're talking habits in both books. What, where do you, and this was written, what I love this was written, you wrote this to parents in the thick of it. So you were I assume in the thick of it when, when you
Justin Whitmel Earley (31:20):
Joey Odom (31:21):
Still. Right, exactly. Very much. Wait, wait, how did this, how did this, and by the way, this book is dynamite. I know this, this really did put you on the map. I mean the, this one, I mean even looked on the good reads. You do, you know, you have a 4.65 stars on good reads on this book, <laugh>? I
Justin Whitmel Earley (31:37):
Don't, I try not to read my reviews is to stay in a good head space, but, um, I don't, I didn't know that
Joey Odom (31:42):
Actually <laugh>, I went and I tried to search for one star reviews. I didn't find 'em. I was gonna read some on air and see what you thought about 'em, but
Justin Whitmel Earley (31:48):
You could find some funny one on on Amazon. You should check that
Joey Odom (31:50):
Out. Right. <laugh>, find
Justin Whitmel Earley (31:51):
Some good ones. My my of all people, my friends will send them to me and Oh good. They're pretty, they're pretty funny. Yeah.
Joey Odom (31:57):
<laugh>, it's hilarious. So why the need for this book after common rule? What, what was it about this, you said it was this continuation and this by the way it does, it is extraordinarily practical. You got the end of chapter reference guides and all that kind of stuff. But what was, why, why did you see the need for this one?
Justin Whitmel Earley (32:13):
Well, I, I look at them as concentric circles now. So the common rule for me was the sort of exploring the idea that we become our habits and habits of the household is really like the exact same theme, but looking a little bit more outside the personal life into the life of the family in the household. And so it kind of like the finishing the sentence, you know, we become our habits and our kids become us. Wow. So the habits of the household are probably one of the most important things happening in our children's formation period. And you know, you think a lot as a parent about what you'll say in some of these key moments of parenting. I, you know, you imagine like, oh when my child is struggling with this, like I'll tell them x but most of the things that we learn from our parents or and our teachers and mentors are much more caught than taught.
You know, what it feels like to live in your house is far more important than what your parents tend like, you know, actually say. So it's this sort of idea of exploring the habits of the household as this almost vibe of formation. Like what does it look like in the morning and in the evening and at mealtimes? What are the habits that you knee-jerk respond to in moments of discipline? One of the most important chapters to me and, and many readers, I've got a lot of feedback on this, is, you know, what are the habits of technology in the household? What are the rhythms of screen time? And so, and also like admittedly also out of crisis, like, because cuz I found myself in a, uh, you know, a house of four boys, <laugh>, you know, fighting for these personal work and technology habits that are helping me.
But I, I realized like my habits of parenting aren't necessarily aligned with this sort of be present, you know, be focused, be productive. You know, when I got home it was sort of like a free for all of trying to manage these boys in line <laugh>. And so I started to really think about like, well what would it look like to apply this here? And it's been rich, it's been a rich couple of years writing this book and applying the habits and talking about it. Honestly, very thankful. I feel like I get more out of writing than anybody might get out of reading, but hopefully it's symbiotic.
Joey Odom (34:25):
D does, it does having these, the first question, so two questions here. One of them is, does in writing this, does it make you more like that person, the things you, you know, this, and then the second one is, does it put a target on your back or, I mean, has your wife ever be like, no, that's not like chapter seven, you know what I mean? Like what do you <laugh>? Do you ever, do you ever get any of that
Justin Whitmel Earley (34:47):
Great. I love those. Um, the answer to both is yes. Um, but those are both good to me. I mean one, you know, as I write about it, I think about it. So it's like, you know, you just, when you start thinking about like, what are our habits of conversation at dinnertime, you'd start to become a little bit more intentional with them. And that's exactly my hope for the reader that like when they read the chapter on mealtimes in habits of the household, that they'll be like, huh, you know, I should think about that. And that just sort of itch to be more intentional is half the battle often just like, just put a seat in the mind and um, it absolutely puts a target on your back. But I was, I was loo I was thinking about this at the gym today. I ran faster on this sprint we were doing because I heard the guy's footsteps behind me <laugh>.
And I was like, that's not a bad thing, you know, there Yeah. There's a sense to which when I write about this and talk about this and you know, my friends and, and my wife, you know, there's no end of like good making fun of Justin for like, when I don't live up to these habits or when like, you know, they're like, Hey, you gonna write about that one next? But I i, if I, if you read the books, I hope you'll hear loud and clear this sort of drumbeat of grace at the bottom, which is, here's how I put it. Like speaking from like as a, a person of faith who's a Christian, the, the way that I see it is, you know, habits will not change God's love for you period. Yeah. But God's love for you can and should change your habits.
And so there's this constant motivation to seek a better life. But it's not because like, you know, I need to live up to that person. I said I was gonna be. It's just because if I'm as loved as I believe that I am, and if that love is as good as I think that it is, then why not take the next step forward? You know? So that motivation of like I got target on my back is not like a, oh no, I'm gonna be in trouble if I don't live up. It's no, that target means I must be on the route to the good life, you know, because that's where the target is. It happens to be on my back cuz I'm running in that direction. <laugh>. That's right. And that's a good thing, you know?
Joey Odom (36:56):
Yeah, it is. Man, that's so good. I i that leads me into the third. You've mentioned friends several times and I know how important that is to you. And this whole concept of your third book coming out in August, which it's called Made for People Why we drift into loneliness and How to Fight for a Life of Friendship. Yeah. Talk for a few minutes about loneliness. I want to hear about this concept and why this is resonant and, and and it's, I know this is the, we could probably do an hour on just that topic alone.
Justin Whitmel Earley (37:29):
Yeah. This is fun cuz I just turned in this manuscript. It's not coming out till August of 2023, but this is kind of the, this is actually the first podcast that I've been asked about it. So this, this is fun to kind of talk publicly about it for the first time, I believe along with a lot of other smarter than me, highly educated people that we are living in a serious crisis, even in epidemic of loneliness. Wow. And the science bears this out in really scary ways. We are actually dying younger now for years because of what sociologists call an epidemic of loneliness. What it means is that because of our increased isolation and our decrease in re in meaningful relationships and contacts with other people, we are coping in kind of unsurprising ways with drugs, alcohol, pornography, excessive eating, smoking, drinking habits that like tangibly and unfortunately lead to nasty and younger deaths.
And as we're seeing that, that is like sounding an alarm bell for whoa, our lifestyle as Americans. Let's take the current analogy again. We're in a current and it is sort of whipping up around a nasty corner that's heading up for a waterfall. And if we don't talk about like why we're all defaulting to becoming busier, wealthier people who used to have friends Hmm. Then that's where we're going. So you gotta figure out how to fight against the current, not just to stay alive. Like I, I like introducing it as the, the, this epidemic of loneliness is killing our bodies because it gets people's attention. But I think the far more important part is it's killing our souls. Yeah. I mean, we cannot be the humans that we were made to be until we do it alongside of others. You, we just, we're sociological creatures.
We are communal, you know, souls like we desire, need, and yes we have to have other people in order to live. Well. And I, I mean I know this intimately Joey, like what I was saying, my first story, the reason I did not fall off that waterfall of despair and become a another statistic eight years ago was because my friend Steve and Matt sat with me that night around New Year's and said, you're a mess, but we're sticking with you anyway. We'll help you keep you accountable to these habits. My wife stuck next to me in those moments and said, you're a mess, but I love you anyway. And I don't believe the future that you believe in. I believe in a better one. The power of other people to hold you fast and pull you out of that current is absolutely miraculous. And I want everybody, I I, in some ways I feel like this is the, the most important thing that I've ever written about. As much as I believe in the last two books right now, I am obsessed with the idea, the reality that we deeply need other people who know us fully and love us anyway. And that's what pulls us outta the current of loneliness
Joey Odom (40:35):
In that equation, there are two pieces of that. There's the giving and the receiving of that, of that type of knowledge and love. Do you believe that either side of that is more challenging to give that kind of knowing somebody but still loving them or receiving receiving that um, that type of love, knowing that someone knows you that well? Do you, are those equally difficult? Do you find, do you find that a
Justin Whitmel Earley (40:57):
I think so. I I think so. I break it down in the, the book right now as the Twin Arts of Vulnerability and Commitment being fully known and then fully loved. So fully known being the idea that you, you have truly made yourself vulnerable to your friends. And, um, this, that is really, really difficult because most people, including myself, believe that if we were truly known, everyone would leave us. But what is actually amazing is that vulnerability breeds vulnerability. And when you make yourself truly known in a safe place with a true friend, it 99 outta a hundred times leads to them saying, well there's something I wanted to tell you two. Wow. And we, and we continually find that what we thought was going to be a moment where we're seen as like these horrible failures of people. Cause we finally just told our deepest, darkest secrets actually is regarded from the other person's perspective as a moment of monumental courage that encourages them to do the same thing.
And that paradox of being fully known as actually not a barrier to relationship, it is the route to relationship is absolutely hard. I would never say it's easy, but it is amazing. And then if you put that in the context of commitment, which is not, you know, marriage I would say is a type of covenant friendship, but it's not the only relationship. I really try to advocate in the book about friends figuring out ways to signal covenant or commitment to each other. And I don't really mean like a written contract of friendship, but more the idea of saying that what in whatever ways you can, like, I'm gonna be there for you. I have a friend who once gave me as a wedding gift that was his groomsman and he gave me a bottle of scotch with the number 2035 written on the top. This was like five years ago.
And I was like, love the scotch. What's with the sharpie marker? Like on the top? He's like, oh, that's the year we're gonna open it. 2035. Come on. And I was like, whoa, that's cool. This was, hold on <laugh>, you assume we're still gonna be talking in what was like then, you know, two decades. And it was just this like, beautiful gift. So it sits in my, um, dresser or drawer waiting for the day that I'll open it with this friend. And it's, it is just one of the signals of like, we're in this for the long haul. I expect us to still be having a scotch and talking about life in 20 years. And that idea of commitment becomes the place where vulnerability can actually happen. And when you put those two things in fully known, fully loved or you know, I know you, I know you fully, but I'm sticking around anyway, incredible things happen. And that's where I would, you know, people have had tons of different definitions of friendship. The word has been used and abused. It's been made a verb by Facebook, you know, to friend somebody <laugh>. But I, my call is to say, let's recapture this sacred nature of this word. Being a friend means to fully know and love anyway and that will change your life. Let's recapture the power of that word.
Joey Odom (44:05):
Wow. I love this. I love the concept of, do you remember the, the dtr, the, the girl you date in college? We have your dtr you defined the relationship talk. So it's like, it's like a friendship dtr, right? You gotta you gotta
Justin Whitmel Earley (44:19):
<laugh>. I I'm all for it, you know, I'm all, I'm all for it. I, I mean, my wife says, um, she says, we've gotta f we've, we've gotta be more awkward with each other cuz it leads to good things. So that of just saying, Hey, I love you as a friend. Like, how would I need more of this? Do you wanna like push into this friendship? Like guarantee you it's gonna be a little awkward and guarantee you it's gonna be super meaningful and lead you to great places.
Joey Odom (44:43):
I've I've always thought that people do, when I've found this, when we were in a small group years ago, I've found this. Everybody wants, I believe that everybody wants a close friendship. Everybody wants that sort of friendship. But very few people want the things that that gets you there. It's, it's really hard. It's really challenging. And because vulnerability, I, and I believe vulnerability has to by definition in some ways hurts. And if it doesn't, it's not vulnerability. You have to expose your underbelly. Right. And that, that has to be uncomfortable. And if it's not, again, you're not really truly being vulnerable unless it hurts a little bit. Do you agree with that?
Justin Whitmel Earley (45:17):
Absolutely agree with that. Absolutely agree with that. I think there's a real difference between sharing and being vulnerable. You know, like marriage has been hard, you know, this recently, uh, is sharing, you know, like we yelled at each other last night and someone threw something, you know, that's like vulnerability. But like that and it's embarrassing. You know, you're cap vulnerable means capable of being wounded. Like your friends can take that and ruin you. Absolutely. And that's why it's Well that's why it's a risk, but one worth taking.
Joey Odom (45:45):
Yeah. I have one more question for you, but we're gonna need to come, you're gonna need to come back in a couple months cause I wanna hear a ton more on this.
Justin Whitmel Earley (45:51):
Can we do this again? I am like, absolutely,
Joey Odom (45:54):
Bro, this is incredible. We
Justin Whitmel Earley (45:56):
Gotta keep it to a bite-size podcast. But I mean, let's follow up on all this.
Joey Odom (45:59):
Yeah, no, for sure. I, I do want, you know, we talk all about intentionality, the Aro podcast mm-hmm. <affirmative> this conversations with people who strive to live intentionally. What, what does that term, what does intentionality mean to you?
Justin Whitmel Earley (46:09):
Uh, what a good place to end. We just talked about the idea, you know, everybody wants friends, but very few people know the, the right steps to take. You know, like that we need other people is common sense, but that we practice the habits to get there. It's not common practice. So to me, intentionality means setting one small thing in place that will help you take the next step towards the life that you wanna lead it. Which is different than a dream. It's different than a hope. I, I would support all those things. But you know, in, instead of saying like, I really want to be a a friend this year, or I really want to, you know, be present this year, it's like, well how about you set up a weekly meeting with a friend? Or how about like you say you're gonna put your phone in that box once a week. Or how about you? Those little habits, I mean, I'm a habit guy. I think intentionality means setting those little breadcrumbs of actions on the path as a prayer that you would walk in that way. That's be, that's living on purpose.
Joey Odom (47:10):
Dude. That's amazing. That's so good. I need to let you run. But where can people find you? Um, your website, socials, everything. I know people are gonna want to go buy the books. Tell us, tell us everywhere we can, we can connect with you.
Justin Whitmel Earley (47:24):
Yeah, absolutely. Um, justinwhitmelearly.com. You can look at that in the show notes or just Google, Justin Earley habit book. Y'all, uh, you'll find me <laugh>. Um, and you can find all the books there. You can find stuff about my law practice there. Um, as much as I try to preach, you know, to limit your interactions with social medias, I I am on the socials and I try to be, I try to be responsive to the direct messages I get there at least eventually. So I welcome people to get in touch, reach out, say hi. Um, so that's where you can find me
Joey Odom (47:58):
On the socials where, where, what's the best way to find you on socials?
Justin Whitmel Earley (48:01):
Twitter and Instagram are where I'm present. Yeah.
Joey Odom (48:04):
Got it. And all this will be in the show notes as well. Justin, you're the best man. Thank you. This was, uh, this was incredible. Worth the worth, the price of admission here for sure. Thank you for everything you're doing. Absolutely. Thanks for being a friend. We should close with the Golden Girls soundtrack. Actually, thank you for being a friend. You know, <laugh>,
Justin Whitmel Earley (48:21):
Let's do it. You, you can bring cue that music right now. I love it. So thanks Joey. This's such a, such a good conversation. Really appreciate y'all and what you're doing.
Joey Odom (48:29):
Thank you brother.
I love what Justin said there at the end. He said that intentionality is setting one small thing in place that will help you get to the life you want to live. What a great way to say it and what a, what a wordsmith that guy is. I love that conversation. Like I said, we're definitely gonna have him back. Please check all the show notes to follow Justin. And please go buy his books. They really are wonderful for you and for your whole family. And thank you once again for joining us here on the Aro podcast. We will see you next time. The Aro podcast is produced and edited by the team at Palm Tree Pod. Special thanks to Emily Miles for video and digital support.