A New Beginning

Bad habits are easy to acquire. They are obtained slowly over time, and they usually remain “invisible” throughout our lives. Most of the time we aren’t aware of them, because they are manifested on a subconscious level. Nevertheless they exist, and they impact every area of our lives. They affect our health, our relationships, our finances, our careers, our hygiene, our physical mannerisms, and even our reputations. Bad habits shape our lives in more ways than we can imagine.

What bad habits do you recognize in your life? Worse yet, what bad habits do others recognize in you that are hidden from your view? A bad habit is any activity that is performed routinely and without thought that can negatively affect your life. But while all of us have a few bad habits, most of us would like to overcome them. Most of us would like to grow and achieve the destiny that God designed us to achieve. We want tomorrow to be better than today. But we know that we are powerless to shape the future unless we can gain control over those pesky habits that rob us of our potential and plague our lives with mediocrity.

So take heart in the fact that bad habits can be overcome once we are able to recognize them. Utilizing the principles that I explain in Make That, Break That, you can replace your bad habits with good ones, and you can write a new script for the rest of your life.

Your bad habits have the power to destroy you, but good habits have the power to overwrite the bad ones and propel you toward greatness. So make an effort to learn how habits are formed in your life and how you can circumvent that process to develop the habits you want. Don’t settle for the status quo.


Attention to the Detail

Not long ago I was watching a golf tournament on television, and I noticed something I had never really noticed before. I watched the player who was leading the tournament while he was preparing to take his next shot, and I noticed how meticulously he was preparing himself for that shot.

I think most of us have played golf at one time or another in our lives. If not, we have certainly hit golf balls on a driving range. So most of us know what it is like to stand over a golf ball before taking our swing. But this guy was taking a really long time to get set for his shot. He was considering everything from the slope of the green to the speed of the wind and from the bent of the grass to the humidity in the air.

But then it occurred to me why he was taking so much time to hit his shot. Professional golfers are so good that the difference between winning and losing is often one shot. In fact, a tournament can often come down to missing a 30-foot putt by a quarter of an inch. So for that reason, golfers at the highest levels give careful consideration to every little detail of every shot they hit. They don’t even take a one-inch tap-in for granted.

So golfers know what all of us need to know. In the same way that a golf tournament is comprised of about 260 shots, each one extremely important, so life is comprised of all our little deeds that come together to write the storyline of our lives. If our habits cause us to waste “shots” on things that are steering us away from our goals, those habits must be eliminated. Time is too precious to waste on behaviors that rob our potential.


Self-discipline & Habits

What is the role of self-discipline when it comes to habit formation? Self-disciple must play some role in the development of new behaviors, because the apostle Paul said, “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so … I will not be disqualified for the prize” (I Corinthians 9:26, NIV).

Self-discipline, therefore, is the fuel that drives the formation of new habits, because nothing new is ever established in our lives without the initial surge of energy that comes from self-discipline. Whether it’s a highly desired personal achievement, virtuosity in the arts, or an outstanding performance in school or in one’s chosen sport, the journey toward any worthy achievement can only be initiated through self-disciple.

The bad news of course is that self-discipline only goes so far. Our experience teaches us and scientific research confirms that self-discipline is a powerful tool when it comes to making personal changes. But a person’s sense of self-discipline is designed to run dry rather quickly, because we humans just aren’t equipped with the ability to force ourselves to do things long-term that we really don’t want to do.

The good news, however, is that by utilizing principles of habit formation, we can use self-discipline to get a new habit started in our lives. Then, after a few weeks, that behavior can become habitual for us. It can become subconscious and “automatic,” requiring no effort on our part.

So instead of laboring to make yourself do what you know you ought to do, learn to use the “habit loop” to your advantage so you can create a permanent regimen of good behaviors in your life. In Make That, Break That, I will teach you how to do this. For now, however, just know that positive behaviors are easier when they become habits in your life.


Pursuing Your Destiny

What is your destiny? That is probably the ultimate question regarding your earthly life. God created each person for a reason, so each individual has a purpose that he (or she) was designed to fulfill in this world. And happy is the person who understands the destiny he is designed to pursue.

But if you are among the fortunate few who have already answered the most important question regarding your earthly life, you need to ask yourself just one more question: What habits are you going to develop to help you achieve the destiny God created you to fulfill?

Your destiny in life is no more guaranteed that your destination on any journey. A flight from Washington to London, for example, is never guaranteed to land on time in the right location. It takes a lot of planning to get from Washington to London by air. And the pilots, the ground crew, the flight attendants, the ticket agents, the security personnel, the flight controllers, the mechanics, the service staff, and the runway team have to perform all their various tasks with precision and expertise so your flight can land at Heathrow Airport at the time they told you it would.

So if a simple flight takes that much planning and that much coordination, the course you have set for your life will take just as much effort. Your success won’t happen by accident. And the primary key to your success will be the habits you nurture along the way, because your habits will determine which direction you go and the speed with which you travel. Good habits will lead to a successful journey; bad habits will lead to a lot of unexpected detours and mechanical failures along the way.

So create good habits today in order to guarantee your arrival tomorrow. Success is the byproduct of your repetitive actions.


The Course You Travel

Have you ever driven on a dirt road that had two ruts for the tires on your car or truck? If so, have you ever noticed how deep those ruts can get when the same cars drive on them day after day? Well, our habits are a lot like those ruts. The more we give in to our habits, the more deeply entrenched they become in our lives. And when it seems like our lives are going around in circles and we are making no progress toward our goals, we refer to this as “being in a rut.”

So habits, like ruts, tend to become more permanent as time goes by. And habits, like ruts, are hard to get out of once we get into them. Habits take you where they want you to go instead of where you want to go. Habits have the power to determine the course you travel in life. A friend of mine once said, “Men do not decide their future. They decide their habits, and their habits decide their future.” And he said this because the habits you form today have the power to determine the outcome of your life tomorrow the same way that those ruts have the power to determine the destination of your vehicle.

So if you know where you want to go with your life, you need to start developing the kind of habits right now that will write the storyline of your future success. You need to pave the way for a smooth journey forward instead of allowing your bad habits to direct you where they want to take you.

The best way to neutralize the bad habits in your life is to form better habits in their place. So get out of your rut. Build a new future and a new life by creating some better habits.


Handling Multiple Demands

God created you to be able to form habits, because the multiple demands of life won’t allow you to consciously think about all the little things you must do each day just to function in this world. So once your brain learns to connect a certain behavior with certain stimuli in your environment, that behavior becomes “automatic.” You perform it subconsciously without even thinking about it.

An example of a good habit would be the way you get ready each morning. Whether you go to school or to work, you go through the same routines. These routines may vary slightly from day to day. But basically you will turn off your alarm and then proceed to the next routine without thinking about what you are doing. When you brush your teeth, you will do it the same way you did it yesterday. When you eat breakfast, you will reach for a cereal bowl, and you will know exactly where to find it. In fact, you can carry on an intense conversation while fixing your breakfast, because you don’t have to give a single thought to what you are doing. All your actions are pre-programmed in your mind, and they have been reinforced through years of repetition. So you will get dressed without having to search for your socks. You will drive to work without thinking about the route you are taking.

Because so many of our actions are habitual, the bad news is that we can get locked into the kinds of behaviors that are detrimental to our lives. In fact, we can have habits that we don’t even realize we have. But the good news is that we can develop good habits just as easily. And once we know how habits are formed, we can circumvent the habit formation process in order to purposely develop the kinds of habits we desire.


Habits That Enrich Our Lives

The word “habit” has a negative connotation in our world today. Everybody knows that it is a bad thing to have a “smoking habit” or a “drug habit,” and nobody wants to be known as a “habitual offender.” But habits don’t have to be bad. If our brains can compel us to learn bad habits and to practice them subconsciously without even thinking about them, our brains also can be utilized to help us learn good habits that can enrich our lives.

If you don’t have the good habits you want in your life, you will have to nurture those habits. And that is relatively easy to do once you understand the process that your brain goes through in order to make a behavior habitual. In fact, the same brain that led the way in the formation of those bad habits you wish you could eliminate can also help you create the kind of good habits you admire in others.

Habits don’t have to be unpleasant, and they don’t have to be destructive. The right kinds of habits can actually improve your life and contribute to your health and happiness. And while you may be painfully aware of how difficult it is to eliminate a bad habit, the good news is that a good habit, once formed, can be just as persistent and just as reliable in your life.

So rather than despising the way that God made you, take advantage of it. Learn how to harness the natural inclinations of your own body and brain in order to form the kinds of habits that can make your life better. Eating healthy is a habit, not a discipline. And exercise is a habit, not a chore. Likewise, thrift and courtesy and industriousness and good parenting are habits a person acquires over the years. Good habits await those who will make them.

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