So often, we’re faced with the challenge that comes when we see people who are more successful than we are or have achieved more and accomplished more and we feel so helpless and inadequate. We wonder to ourselves, “What are the big things that they’re doing that I must not be capable of doing to acheive that kind of success?”
Yet here is the key truth that we need to get permanantly downloaded into our hearts and minds: It’s so often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants. William James wrote in 1892, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.”
Duke researchers in 2006 came to the same conclusion. They discovered that 40% of the actions that people perform each day aren’t actual decisions but habits. This has become one of the most important discoveries in the fields of psychology and success - that so much of what you think, feel, do, and achieve is the result of habit.
There is immeasurable power within our habits - or we might say our disciplines - because we are what we repeatedly do.
So before we jump into this topic, let me ask you a question. Would you say you are a disciplined person or an undisciplined person?
I would argue that even if you think you’re not disciplined that you inherently are! You have some disciplines that you are consistently doing. And you have other disciplines that you do that just aren’t as good or helpful disciplines. But every single one of us are disciplined in different ways.
You might be disciplined to hit the snooze button every day, to play video games in your free time, or to eat a lot of fried food. We’re all disciplined; we just don’t always have the right disciplines and the right habits.
Discipline is choosing between what we want now and what we want most. Chances are you’re successful in some specific area of your life. And if you take a magnifying glass to that one area and look at it closely, you will discover some consistent disciplines.
Maybe you’ve got a good marriage. If you do, I can promise you there are some consistent disciplines you and your spouse have built into your relationship.
Maybe you’re successful financially. Chances are, it’s because you’ve developed some money-savvy habits in this area of your life. You’re likely living on less than what you make. You’re investing wisely and being generous with your resources.
Yet the opposite is also true. If you have an area of your life where you feel like you’re not succeeding in - you’ve got some disciplines, they’re just not the right disciplines.
It was Aristotle who once said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Another way we could say it is, we create our habits and then our habits create us. When you study the most successful individuals, you find that they all create empowering habits.
Breaking Bad Habits
Chances are, there’s not one person reading this chapter that that does not want to change something in their life.
Once I was teaching on the power of habit, and I had a volunteer from the audience join me on stage to illustrate a point. I picked a big burly fellow out of the audience and I had him clasp his hands together while I took a spool of thread and wrapped it around his wrist. I just wrapped his wrist with that thread two or three times and then asked him if he could break the thread - which he could do easily. But then I continued to teach on the power of habit all the while wrapping nearly the entire spool of thread around his wrist. By the time I was done, he was unable to easily break free.
In Scripture, even the Apostle Paul dealt with the strongholds of bad habits. He said, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19)
I just love his vulnerable transparency. Can you relate to that? But in the same chapter, Paul acknowledges where his power to overcome bad habits comes from. It’s derived from the power of God that resides in him. With His help, I can change. By His power, I can be transformed. Paul’s answer wasn’t found in a principle, it was found in a Person. Christ in me is stronger than the appetites within me. I’m not looking to be self-disciplined; I’m looking to become spirit-disciplined because the Spirit inside of me is what empowers me to do what I myself am incapable of doing. God can help give you the power to become more disciplined in these five areas of life that matter most. We must choose what matters most over what we want right now.
But here’s where a lot of us go wrong when it comes to breaking bad habits. Changing behavior without changing your deepest desires and beliefs is mere behavior modification, and it usually doesn’t last. What you need is a changed heart. There will never be lasting or true change without a changed heart because the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.
Here’s what we need to understand: Bad habits cannot be erased; they have to be replaced. You can never truly extinguish a bad habit. Those old cravings and the things that led to the bad habit will always be there in a sense. You can’t just erase them; you have to replace them with a better habit. It’s why smokers have to replace their routine. Our society today doesn’t teach this too well. Pastors are good at telling people what not to do; but we don’t always tell them what they should do. So nothing every really changes. So we need the formation of new habits .
Building Good Habits
It’s been said that people never decide their future. They decide their habits and their habits decide their future.
Here’s a statement I want you to try to remember: Resolve won’t change what routine created. In other words, a lot of us would love to change. Many of us will even resolve to change by setting resolutions for the New Year. And you might change for a week maybe even a month. But we all know what inevitably happens: we go right back to the same routine and the same pattern we held before.
There is great power in the pattern because we are what we repeatedly do. So ask youself, what patterns are evident in your life? When a habit gets set in your mind neurologically, your brain goes into autopilot. It becomes your default level of thinking and behavior.
So what do you need to change a habit? Charles Duhigg wrote a book on this topic entitled The Power of Habit. In his book, he examines scientifically what constitutes a habit. Any habit requires three components:
- A Cue
- A Routine
- A Reward
follows a three step process...
The cue is the trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use.
Then there is the routine - the behavior itself - which can be physical, mental, or emotional.
Finally there is the reward - the resulting flood of chemical reactions within your neurotransmitters helps your brain figure out if this particular habit is worth remembering for the future.
Over time, this loop: cue, routine, reward, cue, routine reward becomes more and more automatic as the cue and the reward become neurologically intertwined.
Let’s take working out for example. Studies have shown that people who identify simple cues and clear rewards are more likely to establish consistent running habits. When I wake up, the first thing I do is I put on my workout clothes and my sneakers before breakfast (that’s the cue). Then I go to the gym and workout (the routine). Then I log my workout on a clipboard I have in my gym bag. Knowing that I showed up to the gym that day and recorded how much weight I just lifted gives me the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that my brain has grown to crave. After a couple of months of doing this, my brain has grown to anticipate the reward (craving the feeling of accomplishment and seeing my log book get filled with a new personal record). Because of this, there’s a measurable neurological impulse to exercise each day.
So remember, you can’t eliminate a habit. You can only change it for a better alternative. For years, I used to have a bad habit. I’d crave and eat junk food about an hour before I went to bed. My wife and I would settle in to watch something on Netflix and as soon as my butt hit the couch, I would have cravings for candy, ice cream, potato chips, you name it. To change it, I had to identify the cue that was preceding my junk food binge. Research indicates that most cues fit into five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, or the immediately preceding action.
So I learned that whenever my junk food craving habit hit, I noticed where I was, what time it was, how I felt, who else was around, and what I had just done. Pretty soon the cue was clear. I always felt the urge to binge on Hot Tamales at around 9 pm, right after we got the kids to bed, right as we were about to watch our evening show on Netflix. Once I figured out the cue and reward, it was fairly simple to shift the routine. If you can perceive the pattern, you can address the problem.
Life isn’t as mystical. As we sometimes make it out to be. Yes, sometimes things do just happen. But the majority of our problems are the result of patterns. If you’ll change the patter, you can change the product!
You don’t always have to be stuck like you are now. You can get a new pattern. That’s why Scripture says, “do not be conformed to the pattern of this world.” You can choose your pattern.
Those whom you admire for where they are in life aren’t successful by accident. They’ve learned the value of establishing good habits over the years. Bruce Lee once said, “I don’t fear the man who practiced a thousand kicks, I fear the man who practiced one kick for a thousand days.” The key to success is not attempting a thousand new ideas, but to hone in on your calling and skill and practice that a thousand times so you become the expert at it. The product of your results are tied to the patterns in your life.
So the question I want you to wrestle with today is this: What do you need to do now to have what you want most? What one discipline do you need to add to your life now that will help lead you toward what you ultimately want most?