All posts in “Personal Development”

habits

The Overlooked Special Power Of Our Habits

Have you ever had an “aha moment” over something that in hindsight seems so simple and obvious? Come on now. I know I can’t be the only one!

Last year I started stumbling upon articles and videos on the topic of habit. The message I kept hearing was, “changing your daily habits changes your life and destiny.” I was inspired to learn more about habits – how they’re formed, how they work and how they can be changed. What I found was both fascinating and encouraging. It was also one of my biggest “Duh!/Aha” moments.

Here are 9 points about habits. To make things easier to remember, I created an acronym: O.U.R. H.A.B.I.T.S.

Ongoing. Habits are ongoing patterns of behavior, acquired through repetition. One of the reasons that habits are ridiculously hard to break is that when a habit is formed, that pattern is literally etched into our brain, establishing a neural pathway.

Underestimated. For many people, the word “habit” brings to mind negative patterns such as smoking, drinking or biting one’s nails. Others think of habits as the mindless things we do everyday.

Habits are often negative or mundane, but there’s more to it than that. As I researched the topic of habits, I learned that there is something very special and powerful about habits that can be leveraged to completely transform our lives.

Instead of thinking of habits in a negative or neutral way, I started thinking of habits as a hidden key or secret weapon, that when used in the right way, empowers us to achieve our highest goals. More on this a little later.

Reprogrammable. Many of us always thought of habits as practically impossible to break or change. Well, we were wrong. You can actually re-program your brain and turn a bad habit into a good one.

Transforming our habits does take time, but the cool thing is, it doesn’t have to take a long time. When you learn how habits work and how to change them, you will begin to see big changes in your life, relatively quickly!

 

habitsHelpful or harmful. Think about it. Just about every decision we make is either worthwhile or a waste of time, helpful or harmful.

Our life is basically the sum total of all our habits, past and present. All the small decisions we make every day add up, and when those decisions become habits, those habits either move us toward our highest potential or hold us back.

The world’s most successful people understand the force of habit. Those people might not be Christians, but this is not just a secular idea, it’s rooted in biblical truth.

The idea that our daily decisions impact our life and destiny is essentially the biblical principle of sowing and reaping. I think that Stephen Covey sums it up perfectly in the quote to your right, from his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Automatic. One of the most interesting things about habit is how it allows the brain to work on auto-pilot. God knew what He was doing when He designed the human mind. Once an action becomes a habit, you don’t have to think about it anymore, which frees up your mental energy to focus on more difficult or meaningful matters.

habit-loopBehavior. According to behavioral researchers, habits follow a simple 3 step pattern or “loop.”

  1. The action starts with a reminder or cue.
  2. The next step is the routine, or the action itself
  3. The final step is the reward. This is the benefit – perceived or real – that the behavior brings.

Instrumental. If you don’t take anything else from this post, just remember this. Our daily habits can be instrumental – in other words, we can use them to our advantage, if we learn to harness the power of habit.

We already learned that we can transform our habits or create new, beneficial habits, and that once a habit is formed, it becomes second-nature. So why not utilize that gift, by being strategic about the habits you form, and letting those habits move you toward your goals and dreams? Those habits will work for you, on auto-pilot, which allows you to concentrate on becoming the person God created you to be, and fulfilling your true calling.

To. Habits can take us to a particular place in our life, figuratively speaking. Habits can take us in all sorts of directions, to health and wealth, sickness and poverty, an amazing and adventurous life, or a life of mediocrity.

And that leads us to the last point, the “S” of Our Habits.

Success There are many important success principles, and it’s essential to have a clearly defined goal or vision. However, all those other things won’t take a person to where they want to be if they never develop the right habits or utilize the power of habit.

In the words of John Maxwell:

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”

It’s the small daily decisions, which turn into good habits, that lead to success.

Some people might be thinking, “That sounds like bad news. I’ll never get to my goal, if it requires millions of small daily decisions.”

The good news is, some of us have been looking at this the wrong way, for years. I too had that “I can’t do this” mindset. I didn’t think I had the self-discipline for all those daily decisions required to do something new and challenging. I’ve realized that once you learn how habits work and how to use the power of habit, you no longer think of it as monumental ordeal, like pushing a boulder up a mountain.

The part that many people overlook is that once a habit is formed, our brain is basically on auto-pilot. Those things that we once thought of as nearly impossible become part of our daily routine, as automatic as putting your shoes on in the morning.

Of course, it takes a certain amount of time before a new habit is formed. So, the difficult part is the beginning. But once you understand how habits work and how the force of habit can be used to your advantage, you have the motivation and energy to get through that difficult first stage. When we get past that, those good habits become like a propeller, that when aligned with your clearly defined vision, will take you to where you want to go! So that difficult phase is worth enduring, because it pays off.

As John Maxwell puts it, we can “play now and pay later, or pay now and play later. Regardless of the choice, one thing is certain. Life will demand a payment.”

To sum this up, here’s the acronym written as a sentence. Our habits are:

Ongoing, underestimated, reprogrammable, helpful or harmful, automatic behavior instrumental to success.

power-of-habit For those interested in learning more, I’m currently reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. You’ve probably heard about it, it spent over 60 weeks on the New York Times and other best-seller lists.

I’m not finished with it yet, but based on what I’ve read so far, definitely get this book. You can do so by clicking on the image to your right.

You’ll learn about how habits work, what drives habits and how they can be changed. Duhigg shares a number of fascinating true stories on how leveraging the power of habit completely transforms lives – not only of individuals, but of teams and big companies as well.

One of the best parts of the book so far is the chapter on keystone habits. Keystone habits are habits that hold more weight, because once developed, they influence numerous other habits, causing a domino effect.

A good example of a keystone habit would be regular exercise. Exercise gives you more energy, which causes you to be more productive, and exercise improves your mental and emotional health, which affects numerous other aspects of your life.

So it’s important to identify your keystone habit. I think that my keystone habit is my daily quiet time with God. Spending that time each morning changed everything. It led to my determination to continually learn and gain wisdom, to develop self-discipline and improve my character. It led to my huge mindset shift on health, which led to new eating habits and regular exercise, something I never did before.

I don’t think it was an accident that I kept “stumbling upon” the message of the transformative power of habit. I think that God orchestrated the whole thing. God has been giving me the grace to go through these changes, and the challenges of developing new habits. So to God be the glory!

How about you? Do you want to use the power of habit to propel yourself to your goals and dreams? If you weren’t already doing this, do you want to be strategic about forming new habits?

Please share which habits, if any, you want to change or start. We can pray for each other. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

photo credit : Kathryn Denman via Flickr cc

Something Far Better Than New Year’s Resolutions

L
et’s be honest. If you weren’t born yesterday, you know as well as I do that most people don’t keep New Year’s resolutions.

Every year around this time the same thing happens. People think about all the things they want to change, the bad habits they want to drop and the new and exciting things they want to do. I think that’s a great thing. However, most people give up on those resolutions after about 2 or 3 weeks, then it’s back to life as usual… until December rolls around again.

Sorry for being depressing, but that’s the reality. That said, there is some good news. Very good news, in fact.

I’ve discovered something truly amazing and… well…miraculous!

If you walk with God daily, you genuinely want to change and you make the firm decision to do whatever it takes to change, God responds to that and that’s when the miracle happens.

true transformationTrue transformation comes from God, and the changes are not shallow or temporary but deep, lasting and life changing.

Before I gave my life to Christ, I was a partier. In my twenties, I went out drinking with my friends just about every weekend. It was just what everyone did. The path I was on led to a lot of mistakes, pain and heartache. But I was so blind that it never even occurred to me that I didn’t have to drink or do all the things that people in the world do.

After I came to Christ, I remember thinking to myself, “Now that I’m a Christian, I’ll just limit myself to 2 drinks. That way I won’t get drunk, but I’ll still be able to enjoy going out with my friends.” That strategy might work for others, but it didn’t work so well for me.

My “2 drink policy” failed on a particularly horrible night in November of 2003. After a couple very tall beers, a friend of mine bought a round of shots for everyone, and things went downhill from there. I was no longer in control. Something very bad happened that night, which is a story for another time, but for now I’ll just say that it ended up being a big wake up call for me.

The pain that God allowed me to go through was enough to snap me out of my foolish mindset – the idea that I could be a Christian yet still act like everyone else in the world.

No, God wanted my whole heart, and that meant obeying Him. His word says that those who love Him obey Him. (John 14:23)

After that happened, I made the firm decision to stop drinking completely. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since. That was definitely one of the best decisions I ever made.

True change comes when we simply surrender to God and allow Him to transform us.

I don’t believe that God forces change on us. That’s why we all grow spiritually at different paces….which leads me to another example.

Even though my life changed drastically in several ways, I still had a lot of bad habits and terrible self-discipline. Especially when it came to my physical health and doing things I don’t like to do.

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I never got in the habit of regular exercise. I’ve never been athletic, and I always hated exercising, unless it was something fun, like dance or maybe swimming.

true transformation

Me and my Coke. (Some random guy in Indonesia wanted to have his picture taken with me…. haha!)

In addition to not exercising, I had poor eating habits. I think I’ve been addicted to sugar, for most of my life. My friends know that my favorite drink was Coke, and you could always find me with a Coke in my hand, as you can see in the photo to your right.

Fast forward to this year, 2014. After years of being inactive, not exercising and not eating right, I finally woke up this year and realized that I just couldn’t continue the way I was going.

Because of the work I do, I’m on the computer constantly, always indoors, always sitting and not moving around much. I was eating lots of processed foods, lots of junk and not enough fruits and vegetables. I was fueling myself on coffee and sugar, everyday.

I was able to get away with those bad habits for a long time, because in the past I had the opposite problem that most people have… I was always underweight. But it finally caught up to me. This year, for the first time in my life (believe it or not) my belly grew, as well as my hips. But more importantly, my health was deteriorating. I had constant fatigue, very little strength and I knew that if I didn’t change my ways, I would end up with diabetes…or maybe something worse.

I started researching nutrition, and reading a lot about sugar and which diet is the healthiest. The more I looked into it, the more I wanted to make this change, and I realized that I needed to change not only my eating habits but my entire lifestyle.

So I finally made the decision to get healthy and stay healthy.

Last year I prayed about my lack of self-discipline. I asked God to change me, but at that time I wasn’t quite ready or determined to do whatever it takes.

God knows our hearts. He knows when we merely say we want to change, and when we truly want to change. When we truly want to change, we give God the green light to work in us, and that’s what happened with me not long ago, in the area of my physical health and self-discipline.

It has been amazing. God opened my eyes and showed me that changing my daily habits will change my life. I’ve learned that He cares about not only our soul and spirit, but our bodies too. Remember, if you are a follower of Christ, you are a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

To others, this might not sound like a big deal, but this mindset change for me is huge. Remember, I was the person who never exercised or ate right, and although I was thin, I was out of shape. (Yes, it’s possible to be thin yet have no muscle.)

What have I done? I cut out all processed foods. I quit refined sugar and caffeine. I’ve been eating fresh, whole foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables. And I’ve been drinking tons of water.

And I’ve only just begun! I am determined to get in shape. I started working out regularly, and for me that has been the most challenging part – even more challenging than changing my diet.

I’m drawing a red ‘X’ on my calendar, every day I work out, and just crossing off another X is satisfying!

This is not a New Year’s resolution.

This is a lifestyle change. A mindset change. A surrender to God, to allow Him to transform me and teach me self-discipline. Not only in the area of my physical health, but self-discipline overall…and self-improvement overall.

I’ve thought about why this realization didn’t happen sooner. I think it’s important to say that this mindset shift came after over a year of applying myself to learning and getting closer to God, as you can read about in this post from last year.

So 2014 was a year of learning, soaking up knowledge and wisdom, growing and preparing for what is to come. That investment has paid off, without a doubt! With my new mindset, new habits and new determination, I’m ready now to bear fruit!

So, I’m really looking forward to 2015 and the future in general. I have some exciting plans about a big creative project, but I’ll share that in another post!

Do you want changes in your life that are deeper and more lasting than the usual short-lived New Year’s resolutions? You can be transformed. I believe anyone can.

Join me in this adventure. Allow God to transform you from the inside out, by making the firm decision to go to the next level.

You will grow and blossom into the person you were created to be.

And that’s a beautiful and miraculous thing!