What Are Habits And Why Should We Care?

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” Rom 12:2.

03 Excellence is a Habit Quote

Mike and I have both shared some of the reasons we’re embarking on this journey towards intentional living. I’d definitely encourage you to check those articles out if you haven’t already done so. Here’s my story and here’s Mike’s.

And let’s just say, for the heck of it, you’re thinking about making a change in your life as it pertains to your spiritual and/or physical life  How do you go about it?

Put another way, if you’re not used to eating clean, or perhaps you don’t have a consistent prayer life, what does it take to start and not quit 3 weeks later?

The answer is quite simple. You must develop new habits.

What are Habits?

The good news is we’re all experts – whether we know it or not – at developing new habits.

In fact, I doubt there was deep thought involved the last time you washed your hair, right?

And what about brushing your teeth? How hard was that this morning? Not very hard at all. Why is this? Because you’ve already developed rock solid habits in these areas.

The philosopher, William James, may have summed it up best when he explained, “All our life, so far as it has a definite form, is but a mass of habits.”

Now, as you know, habits come in all shapes and sizes. There are good habits like brushing your teeth and backing out of your driveway or, for many practicing Christians, saying grace before dinner.

But, unfortunately, there are many other – far deadlier – habits that may lead us into serious sin. For example, sins of the flesh seem to be especially habitual for many men these days. Our Lord summed these, less than optimal, habits up best when he said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” Rom 8:34.

And, sadly, once these sinful habits are formed they can be very difficult to break. But more on this later… so please don’t despair!

How Do Habits Form?

Luckily, there’s been considerable research done in order to better understand how habits work.

As it turns out, researchers at MIT have discovered a particular area of the brain, called the basal ganglia, that seems to play a powerful role in this habit-forming process.

Furthermore, after many experiments, which are explored in great detail in Charles Duhigg’s amazing book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, the research has shown that the so-called “habit loop” begins with a cue or trigger.

When the brain receives this cue, or trigger, it transitions into automatic mode and carries the rest of the habit out.

So, perhaps you have the bad “habit” of eating junk food right before you go to bed. In this case, the “cue” may be the time of day. Or, perhaps, it’s the location you find yourself in around that time of day such as your living room while watching TV.

Once the cue is triggered there’s a routine, the second step of the habit loop. In most cases we’re unconsciously competent when it comes to these habit routines.

In our junk food example, the routine may be to seek out the candy your wife is hiding from the kids! Not that, you know, I have first hand experience with this. Obviously, this is all hypothetical!

But, when it comes to these routines, we don’t even have to think about them, which can be good, when it comes to brushing our teeth… but can also be very bad when it comes to eating junk food, or even worse, visiting less than holy websites late at night.

Finally, once the routine has finished, the final step of the habit-forming process is the perceived reward.

In the case of our junk food example the perceived reward may be the sugar rush your body experiences until, of course, the rush expires and you crash like a ton of bricks later a few hours later. Or, perhaps the reward is that that you no longer feel hungry or bored or whatever the craving you’re attempting to satisfy.

How to Form New Habits?

So, that’s what habits are and how the habit loop works… in my next article we’ll continue this habit journey by exploring how we can create new, and virtuous, habits.

Until then… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

How have habits impacted your life? Can you think of positive habits? Do you have bad habits you’d like to eliminate? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

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