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[Blog] The Transforming Power of Healthy Habits

blog Oct 20, 2021

            You will never rise above your habits. They will dictate whether you succeed or fail in your relationships, your finances, and all your personal pursuits. They will determine the outcome of your educational endeavors, your professional ventures, your ministry efforts, and all your attempts to stay healthy and strong.

            So if you want to be happy, if you want to be content, if you want to be fulfilled and balanced and pleased with yourself and with life, you need to develop a healthy array of habits. 

            Psychologists tell us that up to 90% of our behavior is habitual. Each day we do hundreds of things the same way we did them the day before. Unless a person makes a deliberate effort to do something out of the ordinary, they will hang their keys on the same hook in the utility room where they have hung them for the past 15 years, park in the same spot at the grocery store where they have since first learning to drive and sit in the same seat at church this Sunday morning that they have occupied since they were old enough to read the words in the hymnal.

            On the positive side, our habits set us free from the responsibility of remembering how to do the vast number of routine things we must do each day just to get by. Habits liberate our minds from the strain of trying to recall thousands of details about hundreds of procedures we must do over and over simply to maintain ourselves in this demanding world.

            The bad news is that we can easily find ourselves locked into a range of perpetual behaviors that can commandeer our wills, inhibit our personal growth, and limit our efforts to advance in life. Because most human behavior is habitual, most human behavior is hard to change.

            The reason we find ourselves trapped in our habits—both good and bad ones—is that they produce some type of positive feeling or another physical or psychological incentive that keeps the process going. This forms the “habit loop” in a person’s life, one which is initially triggered by a conscious goal, but which, over time, becomes less deliberate and more automatic. 

            We must learn to appreciate the potential that is inherent in our habitual nature. But we must learn to fear that potential, as well, because the tree that leans as it grows will find it increasingly difficult to change its slant as the years pass by. And the farther that tree leans, the more susceptible it will become to the wind and the rain. It is easier to help a tree grow straight than it is to straighten a crooked tree once it has grown, and it is easier to develop a new habit than it is to break an old one that is deeply rooted.

 

DECISION DETERMINES DIRECTION

            It is important to learn to differentiate between a good habit and a bad one because habits are a lot like seeds: They may not produce their harvest overnight, but in due season they will definitely yield the crop they are preprogrammed to. A good habit will eventually produce a good harvest in your life, but a bad habit will produce a harvest of failure and dearth.

            Other factors may play a role in the storyline of a person’s life, but decisions determine its final outcome because they lead to actions. While emotion is the “fuel” that drives us to act, it is the decisions we make in response to our feelings that actually determine what we do. Then our actions determine everything about our journey and everything about our landing. Other things either contribute to a person’s success or hinder his march to greatness, but those “other things” never write the script.

            So the actions we take determine the paths that we travel, and the actions we take determine the things we achieve and the places we go in life. But the actions we take repeatedly are the actions that will become our habits, the actions that will, for better or worse, control the course of our lives and set us apart from others who are pursuing a similar destiny.

            As long as there is breath in your lungs, it’s never too late to start creating the kinds of habits that will serve you well in life, because a shift today in just one degree of direction can lead to a dramatic change in where your life ends up down the road.

            That means that if you tend to avoid returning phone calls, you can learn to return them within 24 hours. If you tend to stay up too late, you can learn to start getting eight hours of restful sleep each night. If you tend to eat fast food every day, you can learn to exercise daily instead. You can start investing some of your free time in moving toward the fulfillment of your goals instead of just talking about your dreams.

 

GOD’S HABITUAL NATURE

            The Bible says that God has a habit of being very organized. He is very systematic in his approach to things, and he has established definite patterns for the physical operations of his creation. In Ecclesiastes 3, for instance, God has told us that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). 

            God is a planner and has a habitual nature. And we are a reflection of him. The things we do each day, each week and each season of our lives shape our lives and our destinies. They can even impact eternity. If we don’t learn to appreciate the habitual nature that God gave us and if we don’t learn to harness the power of our habits for our own benefit, we are wasting our God-given potential to direct the course of our own lives.

            With that in mind, let me ask you: What are your plans for the coming year? For the next five years? What do you want to achieve over the next 20 years of your life? What do you want to accomplish before you die? What do you want to see your relationships become? And what are your specific plans for achieving these goals?

            Now, I don’t believe that any goal is ever fully attained because they are constantly evolving. Once we reach one level of accomplishment, we raise the bar and start striving for greater feats and objectives. Success, therefore, isn’t a line in the sand, or a specific point on a timeline. It is the process of moving a little farther each day, and true joy is the process of rising a little higher each day. Success is a “today” thing, not a future thing. It is the successful realization of one’s God-given potential.

            This means that successful people are those who are creating habits today that will lead to the results they seek tomorrow. They have organized their lives in a way that will bring them personal fulfillment at a predetermined date in the future. Successful people have the habit of doing things that failures don’t want to do. They have the habit of doing things in such a way that they can reap the benefits when the right time comes.

 

 NO STRAIN, NO GAIN

            The apostle Paul understood the difficult process of developing good habits. This great man of God wrote, “I keep on disciplining my body, making it serve me” (1 Corinthians 9:27, ISV). Like all high achievers, he understood the necessity of nurturing habits that could bring him success. 

            Anyone who wants to create a new habit will have to do so through the sheer force of self-discipline, the kind that Paul tried to practice. New behaviors—especially ones that are good for us—aren’t going to arise spontaneously. The behaviors that we need to forge—those that can lay the groundwork for genuine success—are behaviors we will have to instill in our lives through plain old hard work and determination because our brains aren’t accustomed to processing these new behaviors and our bodies aren’t accustomed to performing them.

            The fact that new habits must start with self-discipline is the bad news. The good news is that the habitual nature takes over after about three or four weeks. So if we can discipline ourselves to practice a new behavior for just a little while, that behavior will soon become a fixed practice in our lives. It will become a habit. 

            Take driving an automobile as an example. When I was young and just learning to drive, I had to think about everything I was doing when I got behind the wheel of a car. I couldn’t allow my mind to wander for a second. But now I can drive a car cross-country and never even think about what I’m doing because driving has become second nature.

            Mike Murdoch once said, “Men do not decide their future. They decide their habits, and their habits decide their future.” So my recommendation to you is that you start developing good habits now, habits that can take you toward the success and achievement you were designed to enjoy. Start learning useful habits and start nurturing healthy habits so you can make your way toward the destiny that is embedded in your soul. 

            In the end, the outcome of your life will be the legacy of your life. And while most people will simply allow the unconscious power of their own habits to carry them helplessly like a floating cork toward an outcome they never chose for themselves, you will have the ability to plot your own course in life. If you will cultivate habits that serve you well, you will have the ability to write the plot of your own remarkable story.