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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, February 22 2024

The power of habits

The brain develops shortcuts to help us act efficiently, without consciously thinking through every tiny decision and action in our daily routine. Habits are the things we automatically do without thinking—whether good or bad.

We need habits to help us function in life. Without habits—being able to automate frequently repeated actions—our conscious mind would be wholly engaged each time we performed the most simple tasks.

The habits we develop significantly influence the kind of person we become. In his best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey points out effective, successful people have certain ways of doing things and certain habits in common, highlighting the connection between our habits and our effectiveness in life.

Just as brushing your teeth every morning became a habit, so moral habits are learned by practice. When a person has been kind and courteous for years, it is easier to be kind and courteous. When a person has practiced lying and deception for years, it is very difficult for him or her to be truthful and straightforward, especially in a difficult situation. It is through these moral decisions that eventually become habit that our character is developed.

Character is defined by our personal values and our understanding about right and wrong, and is molded by the many daily decisions we make. Research (and common sense) suggests it's easier and better to start good habits and avoid bad ones when we are young. A study published in the November 2004 issue of Psychological Science by Larry Jacoby, Professor of Psychology at Washington University, "confirmed that the responses we learn first are those that remain stronger over time."

Many people assume they cannot get free of a bad habit, so they “give in" to their poor choices, but bad habits can be overcome and good habits can be learned. Following are four steps to help conquer bad habits:

1) Ask yourself why the bad habit seems desirable. For example, why does watching TV for hours every night seem "good"? What does it do for you?

2) What price are you paying by indulging your bad habit?

3) When you have weighed the pros and cons of the habit, force yourself to make a conscious choice of what to do about it.

4) Replace the "bad" behavior with another behavior or choice that is productive and positive.

"What starts as self-discipline or will power, such as an angry person who practices counting to ten, can become a new ingrained behavior. This is the way an alcoholic keeps out of bars and a smoker gives up cigarettes for good. Each time we exercise will power, we rewire the brain .… Choosing good habits takes hard work, but the sharp edge of temptation can be dulled with practice. The longer we practice good behavior, the easier it becomes, until it becomes a habit" (Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland, Living With Our Genes: Why They Matter More Than You Think, 1998, pp. 293-294).

In the first century the Apostle Paul gave the Church some valuable instruction: "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things" (Philippians 4:8).

Paul’s words are foundational in considering what we do with our time, and how we make the choices that ultimately determine our habits. Our success or failure in life is defined by the habits we cultivate, and it is never too late to change bad habits.

Jesus Christ taught that our choices or faithfulness in the small things determines our ability to inherit greater responsibility (Luke 16:10). Seeing the link between our habits today and our destiny to be in God’s Kingdom (See our free study guide: Why Were You Born? ) we should ask ourselves an important question: What kind of habits am I cultivating?