I love to read old books, and I’ve recently been enjoying a collection of readings from some time-tested authors. One particular article recently caught my attention—you would have thought it was written yesterday, for it speaks so clearly to us today.
It is entitled “How to Change One’s Habits,” and the sentence which jumped off the page to me was this one: “Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state.” Walking bundles of habits—what a clear picture that gives us of ourselves, does it not? Obviously, those can be good habits or bad habits—or some mixture of both—but I have to acknowledge that I am, to a large degree, a collection of the habits that I’ve established in my life.
Let’s examine our “bundle of habits” to see how we can add good ones and get rid of harmful ones.
When we first start a habit that is harmful, we don’t intend for it to become a habit. For instance, lately we are seeing how so many have become addicted to pornography, especially on the internet. This is a devastatingly bad and evil habit, but my guess is that the person who first goes to one of those pornographic internet sites tells himself or herself they are doing it simply out of curiosity—they just want to see what it’s like. Then one time leads to another and another. . .and before they know it, they’re hooked.
Someone has said, “Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” If we dealt with our harmful habits in the beginning stages, we could pretty easily break them. This author calls it the “plastic state”—that period of time when breaking the habit wouldn’t be too hard to do. But the longer we allow it to continue, the more likely it will become part of our bundle of habits and then it’s very difficult to overcome.
Speaking of ancient authors, the Apostle Paul addressed this issue in his letter to the Romans. He said, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?. . . Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.” (Romans 6:16,19)
In other words, since we are all creatures of habit and are walking bundles of habit, we need to make certain that those habits lead to holiness and righteousness. Unfortunately, many times we’re controlled by bad habits.
If you truly want to break a bad habit—and you have to really want to do it—you must begin by specifically praying about that habit. Whether it’s what we may classify as an innocent bad habit or one that is recognized as harmful, if you are addicted to it and it’s not good for you, ask God to give you strength to overcome it.
Then in order to break that habit, you need to replace it with a good habit. Habit is overcome by habit. As Paul wrote to the Romans, you and I choose whether we will be a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness—whether we will incorporate habits that are wrong or replace them with good habits.
The first part is the hardest part—getting started. You must stop talking about it and start doing it. As Jesus said, “Now that you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:17). The blessing is in the doing. So, how do you get started when you want to break a bad habit? After praying about it, you need to determine what new habit you will use to overcome the bad habit. Remember, habit is overcome by habit.
For example, if you watch too much television or see too many movies that are not good for you, what new thing will you do to replace the time you used to spend watching the wrong things? You could get some Christian DVDs or movies to replace them; you could find a good book to read instead of watching the television. It will be most helpful if you will determine in advance what new good habit you will put in place of the old harmful one. Instead of eating chocolates, you eat carrot sticks—whatever.
Do everything you can to launch your new habit in a strong and intentional way. Get rid of anything that will tempt you; accumulate anything that will re-enforce your decision. If you’re trying to change bad eating habits, don’t stock your refrigerator with all the bad stuff. Stay away from people or circumstances that encourage the old habit and surround yourself with people and conditions that will encourage your new habit. Don’t make it easy for the enemy to tempt you. Then, be tough on yourself, especially at first, until the new habit is securely rooted in your life.
If lack of discipline is one of your bad habits, it will keep you in bondage to your other bad habits. Regardless, start working on them one at a time and, as you are successful in breaking one bad habit, it will give you encouragement to work on others.
Zig Ziglar has said, “When you choose a habit, you also choose the end of that habit.” We are all walking bundles of habits, and our challenge is to make sure we are walking bundles of good habits.
It’s true that habits have consequences, so when we allow a habit to become engrained in our lives, that habit will produce consequences—either good or bad. I’ve often said you can choose your sin but you can’t choose its consequences—and that’s true of habits. However, if they’re good habits, then the consequences are wonderful.
For example, if you are very disciplined about spending quality time with God on a daily basis—you are studying God’s Word, praying, and learning how to be a better follower of Jesus Christ—that habit will produce wonderful fruit in your life. You will be like a tree with deep roots—you’ll be strong in good times and in bad times because of that good habit of daily time with God.
Now, that habit takes discipline. If you are depending on your feelings to get you going, you’re going to find that those feelings are very undependable. This good habit begins by setting your alarm clock early and getting up when it goes off so you have that quiet time alone with God. Establishing this good habit in your life means you have a plan and a structure to help you read and study God’s Word, and you are truly learning how to pray more effectively. I can promise you that there will be few days when you will wake up with a burning desire to get on up and get into the Word. You will do that mostly through sheer discipline—strengthened by your dependence on God to help you.
However, I can wholeheartedly tell you that once you begin through discipline to establish this very good habit in your life—the most important habit for a Christian—you will become addicted to the new habit. You will see that God is changing you, you are coping with life so much better, the joy of the Lord is truly giving you strength, and you are coming to know you can’t make it very well without regular, planned time with God. This good habit will do more good than any other habit at getting rid of bad habits in your life. As I said, habit is overcome by habit.
I don’t think I’ve ever quoted Aristotle before, but here’s something he said which is very true: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Since the beginning of time it has been true that we are creatures of habit—or as I’ve said, walking bundles of habit. It is also very true that the longer a habit is engrained in your life, the more difficult it is to break.
That applies to good habits as well as harmful ones. So, the smart thing to do is to make sure you eliminate the harmful habits in your life and replace them with good habits—things that will make you more effective for Jesus and his Kingdom. Of course, this takes discipline and commitment.
Let me ask you this: What are you repeatedly doing that is building excellence in your life? Zig Ziglar says, “We build our character from the bricks of habit we pile up day by day.” So, what you are repeatedly doing every day is determining your character. Are you building good character in your life through repeatedly doing what you know you should do?
We must teach our bodies that they cannot just do anything they want to do or have everything they want. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).
No doubt Paul was exaggerating when he said, “I beat my body,” but he wanted to make the point that without discipline over his body’s demands, he would never be able to do what God had planned for him to do. It’s very easy to become slaves to our own bodies, and those bad habits can ruin us—physically, mentally and spiritually.
Here’s a good suggestion: Teach your body that it must come under God’s control by regularly doing something—every day or two—that you would rather not do. For example, you don’t eat sweets for a day, even though you want them, but you tell your body, “Nope, you don’t get what you want today.”
When you give an account to Jesus for how you’ve lived your life and used your resources, it would be so sad if you’ve wasted your life by simply not getting rid of bad habits. If you’re born from above, you have the Holy Spirit to empower you to get rid of bad habits. You have no excuse.
Would you like to change a bad habit? I have some final suggestions that may be helpful. Take it one step at a time. You can’t change everything at once, so choose a small goal and stick to it for at least 30 days until it has become ingrained.
For example, if you have trouble getting up on time or getting up early enough to have time with God each day, determine by God’s grace to overcome it. Put an alarm clock on the other side of the room so you have to get up to turn it off. Do whatever you have to do to force yourself to put those feet on the floor as soon as the alarm goes off. Determine that come what may, you will stick with it for 30 days.
Give a friend, mate, or relative some money—maybe $100—and tell them to hold it for you and only return it to you if you’ve kept your 30 day commitment to get up on time each morning. That should help motivate you! Accountability is a key factor in putting change into our lives.
Once you’ve had some success—even in a small way—it will encourage you to know that God will give you the victory over other bad habits. You will build one good habit on another, and you’ll replace bad habits with good ones. I promise you, it really works.
For some people, discipline comes easier than others. Whether or not it’s easy for you, if you’re a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, you have what it takes to be victorious over bad habits because you have the Holy Spirit residing within you to empower you. What you must do is claim the victory that is yours through Jesus, and put the discipline in place.
I John 5:4: says, “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”
You have great blessings in store as you overcome your bad habits and become a walking bundle of good habits, bringing honor and glory to Jesus.more