We all want good daily habits. But instead we sleep in, check our email in bed, and have “just one more.” So, how do we start breaking bad habits and start making good daily habits? Isn’t there a simple three-step plan or a good habits list that will set me free? Not really. But there is hope—both practical and spiritual hope that you can have—and this article is full of both! Just like dominoes, there are lots of tiny, daily, doable steps that make a huge difference.
Here’s a tip. As you make your way through this post, pay attention to your feelings. If you feel defensive, make note of what you’re reading. If you feel hope, take note. If you feel hopeless, take note. We believe God is alive and still works in us today. Listen closely and He will give you exactly what you need.
What is a habit?
To find the meaning of habits, let’s think about what they do. Habits always serve some kind of biological, spiritual, or practical purpose.
You’re like, “Wait, what about picking your nose in traffic?” Well, even though it’s gross, the nose gets cleaned out and stress is mitigated. There is a purpose. A more positive example of a habit is brushing and flossing your teeth. There are many biological and practical benefits of brushing your teeth—like better smelling breath, healthier teeth, removing that clam chowder taste in your mouth, and lower dental bills. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit goes so far as to makes a case that flossing and brushing your teeth is one of five keystone habits that will radically alter your life for the better! By the way, if you’re into this habits thing, Charles has been a great inspiration on how habits work. We’ll get to keystone habits in a bit.
A habit is formed when you consistently meet an important need with a chosen behavior.
So what is a habit then? A habit is formed when you consistently meet an important need with a chosen behavior. Let’s break this down into an example of a good habit and a bad habit.
Bad habit example: picking your nose.
The important needs are mostly keeping your nose clean and calming nerves. The chosen behavior is inserting your finger into your nose. Do this consistently and you have a habit.
Good habit example: complimenting your spouse’s wardrobe.
Again, there are plenty of important needs like survival, the need to not sleep on the couch, and others, but let’s just say the need is to foster a loving relationship. The chosen behavior is finding kind words to describe the way your husband or wife chose to dress. Repeat this before work, on every date, or when they’re leaving the house, and you’ve got a good habit.
So, why are good habits hard to make?
There are many reasons bad habits are so hard to break and good habits are hard to make. Chemicals, biological processes, environmental contributors, and brain science studies can each explain some reasons. All of that is important—but let’s keep it simple. Habits are hard to break because, as we just learned above, they’re meeting an important need.
Even the worst of our habits are somehow in response to a real need in our lives. If you can get to the very root of a habit, you’ll often find an identity issue. Our pastor, Craig Groeschel, says, “An unhealthy identity creates unwise habits. Unwise habits reinforce an unhealthy identity.”
So what can we do about our habits? Instead of jumping into a bunch of “dos” we need to slow down and address the “who” issues. Maybe you haven’t fully forgiven someone. Maybe you have some long-term pain. Maybe you were terribly mistreated or abused. Maybe you were never taught certain things. Maybe you’re telling yourself you hate running, or you’ll always be addicted or overweight. Whatever it is, there’s a real identity battle that creates real needs in your life. Remember, even the bad habit you want to replace is somehow giving you a reward. It’s probably not a good reward, but it’s a reward. Because of this relationship between identity, need, habit, and reward, you can’t just stop a bad habit, you have to address the identity issues as you replace bad habits with good ones.
What does the Bible say about habits?
This short section has no chance at summing up what the Bible offers on this topic, but let’s look at five key themes you’ll find throughout the Bible.
- Isolation is a bad habit. Hebrews 10:24-25 makes it plain that neglecting to be part of a community of faith is not just the lack of a habit; it’s the presence of a habit. The original Greek word used for “habit” here is éthos which implies something that’s become a custom, that may even be prescribed by law. This lines up with the idea that habits serve a purpose—they’re a prescription for something. Good habits, like becoming a part of a faith community, are good medicine. Bad habits, like isolating ourselves when we’re struggling, only make us sicker.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV
- Good daily habits are from God. Habits can be really good because the idea came from God. The very rhythm of God’s creation story in Genesis 1 and 2 is full of good daily habits. God followed healthy, life-giving patterns each day. Just in this one story, God illustrated habits of excellence, persistence, asking others for help (Adam named the animals; God said it isn’t good for man to be alone and created Eve), stopping to celebrate what you’ve accomplished (God saw that His work was good each day), and taking a day each week just to rest. As you read the Bible, continue looking for good habits throughout, and you’ll realize they’re a gift from God. Actually, 2 Timothy 1:7 spells out that it was God who gave us the gift of self-control.
… for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 TImothy 1:7 ESV
- Temptation isn’t from God. To the extent that good habits are from God, temptation that leads to bad habits is not from Him.
Whenever you feel tempted to do something bad, you should not say, “God is tempting me.” Evil cannot tempt God, and God himself does not tempt anyone. James 1:13 ERV
- Bad habits are bad masters. We tend to start bad habits out of a desire for personal freedom. We want to do whatever we want. If I want to roam the halls looking for something sweet, then I’m going to do it! But what happens? We end up with less freedom, mastered by sugar—or something else.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12 NIV
- There is a way out. What Charles Duhigg refers to as the “habit loop” can feel endless and impossible to escape. We all know what it’s like to feel stuck in a habit, making the same mistakes over and over. It can feel like there’s no way out. But God provides a way out. This doesn’t mean you won’t have to do any work, but it does mean that He is good and worth following out of the habit loop.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV
What are some of the best books on Habits?
There a lot of really great books on this topic. Here are just a few of the best books on habits.
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
- The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
This article was originally published on Life.Church, you can read it in its entirety here.