Sunday, June 8, 2014

How to Create Lasting Change, One Habit at a Time.

One of the most common mistakes we do, and which I have been guilty of myself on numerous occasions, is to try to suddenly stop being ourselves and start being someone else.

I'm not talking about a personality change, I'm talking about a habits change.  We commit ourselves to start doing a bunch of new things we have never mastered as if it was as easy as switching on a lightswitch.  "Next week I'm going to start going to the gym 4 times a week, eating only healthy foods and turning it all over to God," or "I'm going to stop spending money on useless things, start following a budget and saving 10% of my income," or "I'm going to start asking every pretty girl out, just accept the rejections and master flirting."   Any of these sound familiar?  If you haven't said something like this yourself, you've probably made a similar commitment in another area of your life.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." - Aristotle

 We make these commitments with the most earnest intent on keeping them.  We apply ourselves diligently to the task, for a couple days or a couple weeks, until something 'bumps' us from this new way of being and then suddenly we are right back to were we started.  What happened?  Our habits.

We are ultimately who are habits dictate we are.  Whoever we are right now, is a result of the habits, the thinking processes and beliefs we've adopted over the course of our lives, but mainly from our childhood.  That is not about to change just because we decide it needs to.  Deciding to change is a key first step but that must be followed by constant, deliberate tending of the garden of the mind.  Particularly the subconscious mind.

We are not conscious of our habits, heck, I'm often not even aware of my habits until my wife does the courtesy of pointing them out to me.  They exist within the subconscious realm of our mind.  The subconscious does the all the heavy lifting in our day to day life, it tells us how to walk, how to read facial expressions, what to pay attention to and what sensory information to disregard (at any given second your subconscious is filtering all the sensory information, editing out what is 'normal' and just bringing what is 'important' to your conscious awareness - for example, how does the air around you feel?  Warm, cool, is there a slight breeze from the wind or air conditioning?  What sounds are there? Do you hear the mechanical rumbling of the air conditioner or heater? Traffic outside? The fridge or other device humming?  Chances are you were oblivious to these until you read the question and now are suddenly aware of them.  Why?  Because your mind suddenly declared them important and so your subconscious stopped filtering them out.).    In the same way, your subconscious has learned set behaviours that may have been beneficial to you at some point (eating/shopping to avoid the feeling of pain/discomfort or avoiding rejection to stay out of pain) but they aren't helping you now.   

So no matter what we consciously decide to do, until we first break and reset those unconscious habits, we will remain a slave to them.

For illustration, let's say someone gave you a beautiful pocket watch as a child.  It unerringly always gave you the exact correct time and so you've come to depend on it to ensure you're always on schedule and on time.  It's served you well for years without fail and you never question it, for you have never had any reason to.  Except you've now grown up and moved to a community that has Daylight Savings Time.  Suddenly, your watch is making you run an hour late for everything and no matter what you do, and how many times you commit to being on time, as long as your running your life according to that watch you continue to be late.   It's not until you manually change the time on the watch that it once again serves you.    In the same way, until we identify and manually change our habitual behaviour, they will continue to cause us grief.

"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." 1 Corinthians 10:13

So if we want to achieve LASTING change that makes a PERMANENT difference in our life then instead of trying to start being something we're not, we need to ask God to reveal to us what are those habitual behaviours that are tripping us up.  It might be clear already, God may show us in a moment of stillness, or someone might say something to later that all of a sudden 'clicks' and we understand what it is that we've been doing.  No doubt there's a lot of contributing habits that we will need to deal with - pick one.  Pick the one habit that will give you the biggest shift and biggest trickle down effect into other areas of your life and focus on that.

Once we have our chosen habit to break, we need to determine what is the new behaviour that we want to replace it with.  This may require some prayer for clarity on exactly what that should be.  Ask the holy spirit to guide you with this, to make you aware of when your engaging in the old behaviour and to help you engrain the new one.   Visualization is a useful technique.  Spend a couple minutes daily, in a quiet place, picturing what you normally do and then visually destroy that mental image and replace it with the new behaviour pattern.   Be prepared to fail!  Old habits die hard.  We are going to catch ourselves having reverted back to the old behaviour, especially when stressed, or busy and just going off instinct.  It's fine.  Don't beat yourself up.  Your subconscious is just doing what it's been programed to do.  It's working as it's suppose to, so don't get overwhelmed or feel defeated. If you're still feeling down, ask God to lift that from you. Spend a bit of time visualizing how that situation should have gone like.  Play the situation out like a movie in your head but this time with a different ending.  The subconscious cannot differentiate what is real from what is vividly imagined.  So with continued practice and repetition the new behaviour will slowly become more and more automatic.   Eventually, you'll start doing it without thinking about it, and at that point, your ready to start working on the next behaviour you want to change.

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." ~ Romans 12:2

There's always temption to try to change multiple behaviours at once but that can lead to overwhelm. Keep God in the foreground here.   Seek His guidance, His strength, His grace (for when we stumble) and know that He will see you through the process.   The more we come in alignment with God, the more tests will come our way.  Don't be discouraged, like students in school, we MUST be tested to ensure the new lessons stick with us for life.   Accept them and celebrate them, they are there to help you. With God, we will overcome, and one habit at a time,we will be made into a new creation.

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