7-Day Practical Faith Blog: "WHOA!" How to Change Bad Habits
Romans 7: 15-21; Philippians 4: 8-9
Most of us who have used one technology over the course of our lives tend to struggle when faced with new technology. My oldest son and I were joking recently how he will experience the same difficulty some day. "Dad! You set the teleporter wrong! That's why you ended up in the wrong place!"
Changing old ways is hard. That's what early drivers learned. Rusty Williams writes in the book, Deadly Dallas: A History of Unfortunate Incidents & Grisly Fatalities:
At the beginning of the automobile era, there were as many "learner" drivers on the street as there were automobiles. Otherwise capable men who'd grown up pulling on reins to stop a buggy had some difficulty remembering to use a mechanical foot brake. Virtually every newspaper of the time printed stories of motorists crashing through store display windows while yelling 'Whoa!" at the runaway autos.
Changing habits is difficult. The researcher who said that it takes 21 days to change a habit hasn't met me or practically anyone I know! It takes time and effort to change a habit.
As Christians, we are called to give up sinful ways and adopt new habits. We still cling to our old ways, though. Sometimes it's because we're comfortable even in ways that are counter to God's ways, and we tell ourselves that our sin isn't so bad. Other times, we have good intentions, but can't shake free from bad actions. The Apostle Paul wrote the classic lament about this in Romans 7. I'll shorten the passage from verses 15-21 by selecting the first and last verses, with 18b from the middle:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do...For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out...So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
So, how do we go about changing a habit, changing our ways, and doing the right thing? I want to offer four ideas to you, three of which I've actually used with some success. The first idea is one I haven't experimented with, but it sounds like a good plan.
PsychCentral.com cites research suggesting that replacing a habit with an alternate behavior is a good way to change or break a habit. For example:
Instead of reaching for a cigarette or drink when you're stressed, apply stress management techniques such as taking a walk or meditation.
Instead of chewing your nails when anxious, try deep breathing exercises.
Try not to replace your new behavior with something similar to the previous one. For example, if you're reducing social media time, don't replace it with a streaming app.
This leads to the second idea, and the first that I've tried: Creating awareness of the habit. We fall into habits without thinking of them. To stop them, we must be aware of when we are implementing the habit and do something intentional (a key word) to change our behavior.
For example, long story short, I have to wear a mouth appliance each morning for 15 minutes to realign my jaw. If I wear it more than 15 minutes, then I find my jaw doesn't realign properly. But I lose track of time, caught up in other things, and I forget to take it out. Bad habit. So I gave up and started setting a timer on my phone to remind me to remove the appliance. Of course, the first day I did it, I shut off the alarm at the proper time, but then I left the appliance in my mouth! Duh!
Awareness of the situation leads to another idea I've tried with some success when confronting a temptation: Conducting a debate. M. Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled, goes all the way back to the Adam and Eve story to draw a new conclusion:
The story suggests that...there were open channels of communication between (God) and man. But if this was so, then why was it that Adam and Eve, separately or together, before or after the serpent's urging, did not say to God, "We're curious as to why You don't want us to eat any of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil....Your law on this matter doesn't make much sense to us, and we'd really appreciate it if you explained it to us"...They listened to the serpent, but they failed to get God's side of the story before they acted...The step missing is the step of debate.
Interesting thought. Paul wrote that when he wanted to do good, evil was nearby. But it's also true that when we want to do evil, good is nearby. That means we can actually set up a debate (in our minds and spirits) between good and evil when faced with temptation. Slow down and think about both options. I've found that when I do this (and I don't always), it leads me into the right direction.
Finally, Paul has another idea which can lead to better habits: Purer thinking. By focusing on beautiful things, we can populate our mind in a way that should lead us to take better actions. Paul writes in Philippians 4: 8-9:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Again, there is the idea of intentionality. By being intentional in our thinking, we experience God's peace, and we are able to make better decisions, changing harmful habits.
I hope there is at least one idea you can implement for yourself to help you do better than saying "Whoa!" to old habits while running aground. Instead, you can practically do something that improves your faith, your interactions with others, and your alignment with God.
Being intentional is a big theme of Cecil Taylor Ministries as I teach Christians to live a 7-day practical faith. I even have an intentional, four-part structure for responding to crisis as I share in my book and video series, The Next Thing: A Christian Model for Dealing with Crisis in Personal Life. The book, videos and related materials can be found at www.CecilTaylorMinistries.com/the-next-thing . The book and the Participant's Guide are also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Books, and other fine retailers by searching on "The Next Thing Cecil Taylor".