6 Steps to Overcoming Bad Habits
Bad habits range from annoying to deadly. They can frustrate and discourage us. But there are biblical principles that can help us overcome them.
Have you ever been in a social setting where a person near you drums her fingers on the table, rattles the change in his pocket or stirs the sugar into her iced tea for longer than she really needs to? These types of habits can really get on our nerves!
But what about the habits we annoy ourselves with—our own habits that we’d really like to change but can never seem to get a handle on? We’re not talking about drumming fingers, rattling change or stirring tea, but the habits that come back over and over again and inhibit our functioning. What can we do if we struggle with habits like eating too much, indulging in too much screen time, neglecting exercise, reacting with anger or profanity, or a host of other patterns that negatively affect our lives?
Here are a few tips to begin changing those bad habits:
1. Seek God’s help
Change is hard, and some essential changes can only be made with God’s help. God knows the struggles we face and encourages us to come to Him for the extra help we need (Matthew 7:7-8; Hebrews 4:15-16; 1 Peter 5:6-7). God doesn’t do all the work for us, but He does offer help to make us more effective.
2. Make a commitment to change
We will not start to change until we commit to change. If we don’t really want to change, it simply won’t happen. We may stop the habit temporarily, but it will return.
We will not start to change until we commit to change.3. Be specific in identifying the habit to be altered
Write down the habit you’d like to change. Writing it down solidifies the idea when it’s fresh in your mind, and a written note is tangible and makes the whole process more real. Use definite, concise language, and don’t be wishy-washy when wording the note.
Put the note in the place you find yourself usually engaging in the bad habit. That way, it’ll be there as a regular reminder.
4. Replace the undesirable habit with a desirable habit
We often remain mired in undesirable habits simply because we don’t redirect our energy toward something else. A new, good habit is more than a “replacement” for the habit we desire to break. It should be a different, positive action toward which we direct our energy.
Consider this advice on how to replace a bad habit: “Begin by identifying the payoff your bad habit was providing—relaxation, escape, reward, satisfying a hunger, or just filling time. Make sure your replacement fulfills that need as well, but in a healthy way” (“How to Break a Habit”).
5. Have someone hold you accountable
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us that two people are stronger than just one, because if a person falls alone, there’s no one to help him up. The same is true when trying to alter life habits. We often say that we “fall into” bad habits. The best course of action is to have another person with us—someone who can both champion our cause and help us up if we do stumble.
Not only does it help to have someone on your side, it also helps to have someone to celebrate the victories with you along the way!
6. Stay positive, even when there are setbacks
We are often our own harshest critics. It is easy to feel so discouraged by a setback that we give up or think that we have completely failed. Once an attitude of failure or negativity takes hold, it’s easy to give up completely. Don’t quit!
How long does it take to create a new habit? A 2010 study done by University College London research psychologist Pippa Lally found “the time it took for the habit to form varied widely: For some people, the healthy habits felt automatic after just 18 days—for others, it took 254 days.”
There are many other studies that have shown it takes time to change our habits. So, if there are setbacks, and there inevitably will be, stay positive! After all, once the new habit has become second nature, it will be that much more rewarding to look back on the long journey and know that even the setbacks were not total roadblocks, just another part of learning to change and overcome!