Monday, May 07, 2012

Developing Great Habits

Over the next week I'm going to be reposting some of the most popular posts from the past few years. I think they're still relevant. I hope you do as well. This was originally posted in August of 2011.

I recently finished reading Chip Ingram's book: "Good To Great in God's Eyes."  I'm going to build off a section he included in his last chapter. It's on the subject of change.

Each of us, at some point (or many points) sees the need for change. John Maxwell says that "People change when they hurt enough that they have to, learn enough that they want to, or receive enough that they are able to." I've tried to be one of those people who learn enough that I want to change. I'm trusting that there are a few more people like that out there; that's the reason for this series.

I don't think that many people understand the power of habits. As has been said many times, in many ways: first we form our habits; then our habits form us. You are, in fact, what you repeatedly do. I have many habits, some good, some... not so much. I happen to like routine. So, for me, after showering and dressing, I've made it a habit of spending time reading my Bible and praying to start my day - a good habit. Then I hop in my car and it drives itself to Tim Horton's where I pick up my coffee and a bagel - not as good.

I've spoken to many people who have easily identified the bad habits they have, but who have either no desire or no power to break them. Why does it matter? As Chip says in his book, "We need to grasp the fact that the sum of our good and bad habits will dictate who we will become. The kind of man or woman you will be in five, ten or twenty years from now will be determined by the habits you have today." If my habits have that kind of power, I want to make certain that they're good ones; not bad ones.

Thomas a Kempis, the 15th century mystic, hit on a great truth; that "Habit is overcome by habit." What he meant is that simply quitting a bad habit won't do. It leaves a void that, if not dealt with, will usually result in the resumption of the bad habit at some point in the not too distant future. We see examples of this every year at New Years. We make resolutions, then quickly abandon them, largely because we try to change by sheer will power. Few succeed.

Scientific studies vary on how long it takes to change a habit. The estimates vary anywhere from 18 days for some to two months or more for others. Understanding this can help us to change. If I think about the fact that, for the rest of my life I will no longer drink coffee, for example, the thought of that either can keep me from trying to break the habit or cause me to quit after a week or so. If however, I decide to replace my morning coffee ritual with a fruit smoothie, for example, and that I will do this every day for 30 days, I am more likely to find success and to make a permanent positive change in my lifestyle.

What we want is to make our habits work for us. One of the examples I often think of is Charles Swindoll, a prolific Christian writer and pastor. When he was a young man he had a desire to write and believed that it was something he should do. The problem was that he could never find the time in his busy schedule to write. Because it was a priority, he determined to find a way to do this. He made a commitment that he would arise one hour earlier each day and that he would give that hour to writing. This commitment resulted in a lifelong habit that has seen Charles, now in his late 70s, produce more than 70 books, including at least 12 Gold Medallion Award winners.

Not all of us will have such dramatic success as Charles Swindoll. However, I believe that each of us can use the power of habit to our advantage instead of to our detriment. Why not start by identifying one habit in your life that you would like to change, and one good habit that you would like to replace it with. Over the next few days I'll be writing a six-part series on "How To Make Positive Change" based on Chip's book. I hope you find it helpful.

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