“Why is it so easy to repeat bad habits and so hard to form good ones? Few things can have a more powerful impact on your life than improving your daily habits. And yet it is likely that this time next year you’ll be doing the same thing rather than something better” (Atomic Habits, James Clear, p. 29). This is an intriguing question and one that impacts all of us. On the one hand, the very fact that man continues to make resolutions each New Year is an indication that we do want something better for ourselves. Yet, how many resolutions or determinations to be a better person have quickly faded by the time early spring arrives?
Good Habits and Bad Habits/Different Animals
“The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time” (pp. 22-23). The Bible even uses stronger language in reference to the energy and determination needed to uproot a sinful habit. We must actually resolve to crucify and put to death such things (Galatians 5:24). Most bad habits, after a while, can seem like they are inherently part of us, or that we have always been this way. Yet even if a sinful practice has become as dear to us as our right eye, or seems as natural to us as our right eye, we must rip it out without mercy (Matthew 5:29).
The Daily Verses the Earth-Shattering
“Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action… Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day (like Joseph’s determination to do the right thing MD) and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent. This can be a difficult concept to appreciate in daily life. We often dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter very much in the moment. If you save a little money, you are still not a millionaire. If you go to the gym three days in a row, you are still out of shape… Unfortunately, the slow place of transformation also makes it easy to let a bad habit slide. If you eat an unhealthy meal today, the scale doesn’t move much” (pp. 16,17).
I see an example of this in the life of Peter. He was willing to pick up a sword and die for Jesus in a great moment of glory (Matthew 26:35). In fact, all the other disciples said the same thing. Yet, he was not willing to simply stay awake and watch and pray while Jesus was praying (26:40,45). Staying awake and praying did not seem to be an earthshaking thing to do at the moment, and yet, Jesus was prepared and they were unprepared in the events that followed.
Time Magnifies the Margin
“Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it. Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy” (p. 18). When you are 16 or 18 it is a little harder to see how your decisions are putting you on a different course from your friends or fellow students. Jesus stresses the need to live the Christian life on a daily basis (Luke 9:23). Peter spoke of practicing various virtues on a continual basis so that we do not end up stumbling and falling (2 Peter 1:5-11).
- “Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts” (Proverbs 8:34).
The Sudden Revelation
In Proverbs chapter 6 we are given a picture of the lazy man. On the one hand the diligent individual is likened to the ant, who continues to work when no one is looking. They do not need supervision, and still work during even nice summer days (6:6-7). The lazy person often does not view themselves as lazy, just taking a little break (6:10). Yet all those “little” moments of laziness add up. All of a sudden poverty slows up, like an armed bandit, and there is no ignoring or arguing with it (6:11). In like manner, time may go by in which it seems that a good habit hasn’t paid any dividends or that a bad habit hasn’t harmed us, and then all of a sudden the dividend or bill shows up. “Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change. This pattern shows up everywhere. Cancer spends 80 percent of its life undetectable, then takes over the body in months. Bamboo can barely be seen for the first five years as it builds extensive root systems underground before exploding ninety feet into the air within six weeks” (p. 20).
- Getting one more task done on any given day adds up. Yet putting things off equally compounds in the opposite direction.
- Reading a chapter in a great book will not make you a genius, but continuing to read great books will transform you over time. In addition, learning in one area helps you learn in others, and reading one book will open doors to other great books. Negative thoughts compound as well. “The more you think of yourself as worthless, stupid, or ugly, the more you condition yourself to interpret life that way. You get trapped in a thought loop. The same is true for how you think about others. Once you fall into the habit of seeing people as angry, unjust, or selfish, you see those kind of people everywhere” (p. 19). Compare with Titus 1:15.
- Your relationships will equally compound. “People reflect your behavior back to you. The more you help others, the more others want to help you” (p. 19). The long lists of friends that supported the apostle Paul (Colossians 4:7ff) made a huge difference in their lifetime. You were born to do the same.
The Underlying Belief
“Behind every system of actions are a system of beliefs… Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last. You may want more money, but if your identity is someone who consumes rather than creates, then you’ll continue to be pulled toward spending rather than earning. You may want better health, but you continue to prioritize comfort over accomplishment, you’ll be drawn to relaxing rather than training. It is hard to change your habits if you never change the underlying beliefs that led to your past behavior” (pp. 32-33).
What Is My Identity?
“Your identity is literally your ‘repeated beingness’” (p. 37). That is, you are what you continue to do. “The one who practices righteousness is righteous” (1 John 3:7).
Is Your Current Identity from God?
“Once you have adopted an identity, it can be easy to let your allegiance to it impact your ability to change. Many people walk through life in a cognitive slumber, blindly following the norms attached to their identity. When you have repeated a story to yourself for years, it is easy to slide into these mental grooves and accept them as a fact. In time, you begin to resist certain actions because ‘that’s not who I am’” (p. 35).
Start Voting For Yourself
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become” (p. 38).
- “I am a Christian”
- “I choose friends who love God”
- “I resist evil”
- “I choose growth”
- “I cling to good”
- “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes”
- So what kind of person do we wish to become? Because at the end of the day, we become our habits.
- Hopefully, we want to become spiritual and godly people, thus, we should start thinking, “What would a spiritually strong person do?” Would a spiritually strong person start the day with prayer? Would they be prepared for the Bible study? Would they worship tonight? Would they put this event ahead of God? “Fundamentally (habits) are not about having something. They are about becoming someone” (p. 41).
Mark Dunagan | email@example.com
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017