Do you ever wonder why you keep doing the things that you do? You can find the answer to this encyclopedic problem in a little 5 letter word–habit.
I believe it was Aristotle who said: We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Repetitious behavior is a coin with two sides: good habits and bad habits.
Because they are so ingrained in our lives, habits are often performed unconsciously. This means you give little thought to some of the things you do. This auto-pilot mentality is either a wonderful servant or a worrisome master.
Research has shown that old habits appear to lose some of their power when new habits begin to replace them. The new habit is a positive detour that bypasses the old rut.
According to Ryan and Markova we form new habits by considering our three zones of existence: comfort, stretch and stress. Comfort is the realm of existing habit. Stress occurs when a challenge is so far beyond current experience as to be overwhelming. It’s that stretch zone in the middle — activities that feel a bit awkward and unfamiliar — where true change occurs.
Any time you try to kick a habit and develop a new skill, you can expect to experience some discomfort. If you are right-handed, try writing or eating with your left hand. Unless you are ambidextrous, it will feel a little odd or clumsy.
The same is true with any change in your routine. At first it will seem awkward. Several years ago I was told that I should substitute rice or almond milk for regular dairy milk. The first time I tasted the substitute, my tastebuds shouted: YUK! I did a quick reframe of my response and said: It isn’t milk, but it tastes pretty good for what it is. And, I’ve done fine with it ever since.
New habits are not developed overnight. At a minimum, I suggest 40 days of consistent practice as a start and for long-term success I think 3 months dedicated to the new routine is important.
Paul contrasted the habits of the flesh and the habits of the Spirit in Romans 6: I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. 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. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I hope this thought keeps you thinking: Where in your life do you need to intervene, so you can begin a healthy new routine?
Note: This is a slightly edited version of an article I wrote in February 2012. I have posted it because it is a good follow-up to yesterday’s post.